Back in 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong proclaimed his descent to the moon’s surface as “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”
In football terms, Pawhuska High School expanded its stride to a whole new universe during its past 24 games.
Coming off an 0-10 campaign in 2017 — an ugly 0-10. How ugly? Three lopsided shutouts, 74 total points scored, eight losses by 36-or-more points and a 75-6 loss to Perry to bring a crushing end to the season.
So, when a new head coach named Matt Hennesy arrived in Huskieland in 2018 — despite the success he had accumulated in his other stops — optimism at first had to be more forced than spontaneous.
But, as Hennesy’s vision and will-power nurtured the program, hopes began to take shape.
Among his toughest choices that first year was to move offensive lineman Bryce Drummond to quarterback.
Boy, did that pay off. More in a minute.
Two seasons later, Huskie football is a relatively fresh stratosphere of achievements.
Pawhuska football has blasted off to a 17-7 record and a top-five state ranking during Hennesy’s short tenure at the controls.
During the 2019 campaign, Pawhuska blitzed to a 9-0 record before suffering a six-point loss to eventual state semifinalist Pawnee.
Once they began the playoffs, Pawhuska routed Oklahoma Union, 52-6, stunned unbeaten Stroud, 34-26, and played in the Elite Eight. Ringlng outlasted the Huskies, 28-12 — and went on to win the Class A state crown.
But, Hennesy is looking to rev it up again for another flight toward the top in 2020.
Drummond will be one of Pawhuska’s prime-time returnees next fall.
His offensive stats in 2019 were almost the numbers on which dreams are built.
He completed 64 percent of his passes (198-of-309) for 3,426 yards and 36 touchdowns, while being intercepted 11 times.
Drummond also spearheaded the Huskies’ running attack — 870 yards and 25 touchdowns on 150 carries.
If that weren’t enough, he also caught eight passes for 46 yards.
His offensive yardage total was 4,342 yards and 61 touchdowns accounted for.
He also was responsible for 17 two-pointers, as either a passer, runner or receiver.
“At the time it was his work ethic,” Hennesy said about his decision in 2018 to make Drummond his No. 1 quarterback.
Drummond’s progress could me measured by light years — and “he still had got a lot of improvement to do,” Hennesy said. “I think his progress might be even more amazing this next year.”
That’s a scary thought for Pawhuska’s foes next season.
Drummond isn’t the only key returnee for next season.
Offensive threats for 2020 include Kevin Davis (35 carries - 186 yards rushing, 7 TDs; 27 catches - 351 yards receiving, 3 TDs), Mason Gilkey (24 catches - 636 yards receiving, 8 TDs), Dalton Hurd (21 catches - 333 yards receiving, 2 TDs) and Jack Long (8 carries - 57 yards rushing, 1 TD; 1 catch - 15 yards receiving) are set to be back.
Another player who could thrive with greater opportunity is kicker A.J. “The Leg” Soliano, who is coming off his sophomore season. He also caught two passes for 46 yards and one touchdown.
In addition, Hennesy will welcome back six of his starting front seven players on defense — although departing senior Hunter Reed will leave a gigantic hole to fill. One of those returning starters will be Lesharo Wildcat, who will be a junior next season. Wildcat was chosen to play on the U.S. Under-16 national team.
Reed racked up 179 tackles (111 solo), 10 tackles for loss, five sacks, a defensive touchdown and one fumble recovery this past season.
Hennesy is counting on Reed’s younger brother, John, to help compensate for his brother’s absence.
“We didn’t expect him to be as good as he was as a freshman,” Hennesy said about John Reed.
The 2019 Huskie roster also featured several linemen that were freshmen through juniors.
The returnees already are inhabiting the weightroom to prepare for next year’s wars.
“The attitude is right,” the coach said. “I think the biggest thing is that … you can’t rest. You’ve got to work even harder. We tell the guys that it’s a lot easier to climb the ladder than it is sitting on it with everybody shaking it.”
With Pawhuska moving to a new district — one that won’t be chock full of recent state champions or finalists, or other Class A juggernauts — the prospects are even sunnier.
But, Hennesy doesn’t want to dial back the level of regular season competition.
Although the new district might be a little less taxing, Hennesy has slated a brutal non-district schedule, which includes Perry, Victory Christian and Rejoice Christian.
The quality of depth might fall off a bit next year with the large exodus of seniors that experienced a wild ride during their Huskie careers — from the 0-10 disappointment in 2017 to the chase for a state title in 2019.
With just a couple of tweaks, Pawhuska might very well have made the final.
“We change three or four plays in that game (vs. Ringling) and that could have changed that outcome,” Hennesy said.
The Huskies went to battle without the young man Hennesy labeled as their best player, Easton Kirk.
Kirk, a senior dynamo, caught 33 passes for 519 yards and eight touchdowns. He also carried the ball 43 times for 286 yards and two scores.
Another powerful senior contributor was Cade McNeil, who accumulated more than 1,000 yards of offense. McNeil hauled in 56 catches for 943 yards and eight scores, and ran for 85 yards and two touchdowns on two carries.
Even with a new cast of characters in some positions — or playing bigger roles — next season, the fundamentals for Pawhuska’s continued winning ways are the same as when Hennesy first took the job.
“I think it’s just getting everybody on the same page, getting everybody to buy in,” he said. “We’ve proven everywhere we’ve been that it works. It can’t just be the players buying in or the coaches working hard. It takes the administration and community, which is what we’ve had at Pawhuska.”
Next year’s team might be more talented than the 2019 team — largely because of the returning players getting bigger and more prepared — “but we’ve got to create some more depth,” Hennesy said.