There’s two numbers on the back of Oakley Hussey’s helmet — well, er — the helmet that Oakley Hussey wears.
“12” on the top, “25” on the bottom. The two numbers stack at the back base of the senior’s helmet in white lettering.
Entering Saturday’s 4A state title game against Bishop Kelly, the Hillcrest High School football team is playing some of its best football without one of its best players.
Hussey is wearing the helmet of that player: Jordan Neuerburg, whose season ended back in September due to a knee injury.
“He’s actually wearing Jordan’s helmet,” senior fullback Kanon Young said during Tuesday’s practice. “We never know when someone is gonna go down so we’ll have to be able to step up and play, so he and Jordan decided he was going to wear Jordan’s helmet to represent Jordan.”
The numbers and helmet sharing could be a poetic sign: after Neuerburg (number 25 for Hillcrest) was ruled out for the year following Hillcrest’s win over Rigby, Hussey (number 12) has taken over as Hillcrest’s predominant ball carrier.
The transition has almost come seamlessly. And the stats prove the transition has been.
For seven weeks, the downhill runner with a prototypical college build (Hussey is listed at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds on Hillcrest’s roster) has gashed defenses across the state. Hussey’s rushed for 1,283 yards, 12 touchdowns on 148 carries on the seasons. Of those, 1,110 yards and 10 touchdowns have come in seven games.
Taking mostly a backfield role for the Knights (11-1) since Neuerburg’s untimely injury, Hussey also has 32 receptions for 350 yards and seven touchdowns when thrown to by quarterbacks Kyle Austin and Seth Curtis.
“We’ve been friends since grid kid,” Young said of Hussey. “We’ve been friends for a long time. He’s got goals set high, everything set straight. He wants to go to college, which he deserves it. He’s a hard runner, but it’s not just him. It’s our o-line mostly. They make everything happen for us. They bust their butts. They move hard. ... We make the holes and he makes the magic happen.”
The easy-going senior said he hasn’t focused too much on the role switch. Rather, just trying to make the Knights collectively better and “make magic happen” once he reaches defense’s second level.
“It’s been good, and like I’ve said in the past, it’s horrible we don’t have Neuey with us, but when coach said I had to step up, I just knew that this is how it goes, you know,” Hussey said last Friday after he rushed for 202 yards, two touchdowns and a fumble on 20 carries against Nampa to help the Knights reach their first state title appearance in football since 2008.
“It’s a game of stepping up and filling in when people go down. It’s been good, my teammates have supported me and I’ve been working hard to keep it going,” he added.
Tuesday’s practice saw the Knights run close to 70 plays, per coach Kevin Meyer, as Hussey — along with Young, Trae Henry, Kyle Austin, Josh Norman and Seth Curtis — ran behind the Knights’ swinging guards and aggressive tackles.
While credit is due to Hussey for keeping Hillcrest’s rushing offense prosperous late in the season, the Knights’ success stems from an offensive line and I-formation scheme that’s helped produce 3,823 total rushing yards in 12 games.
“You know, I knew when Jordan went down, that we had to change what we did,” Meyer said. “We would have not enough — if you moved one of the running backs inside then we probably don’t have enough power on the outside, explosive enough for (teams) to honor us enough — so, you know, (Hussey) just practices really hard. I love the kid. He’s a winner and he’s going to do everything he can to be successful. ... He runs really hard.”
The Knights will try to run down their opponent one more time Saturday, though they’ll have to do it against a stingy Bishop Kelly run defense. The Knights over in the Boise metropolitan area allow just 16 points and 105 rushing yards per game.
The Hillcrest Knights have scored 40-or-more points in five of their previous six wins. The Bishop Kelly Knights have only given up 40-or-more points once this season (week five against Middleton).
A win will give the Knights their first state title in a decade — another year Hillcrest used a prominent rushing attack with a first-year coach.
“I tell them before every game that we respect our opponents, no matter who we play, it’s one game, and it’s a big game, but mostly I tell them it’s not about our opponent,” Meyer said Tuesday, as the weather dropped in Ammon and the Knights practiced well into the evening. “It’s about us. It’s just being real. If we take care of us, we’ll be fine.”
Hillcrest plays Bishop Kelly at 1 p.m. Saturday at Albertsons Stadium in Boise.