Calvary running back Jacob Helzer readily accepts just how important his presence on the field will be for the Lions this season.
His dual roles at running back and defensive back are key spots in the often-explosive six-man game.
But perhaps just as important to Calvary will be his evolving position as a team leader. He’s a senior now, and ready to take on that role.
“I definitely embrace being a leader,” Helzer said. “I want to be a leader, be selfless and do everything for the team.
“My freshman year, I played basketball and my brother was the biggest leader on the team. He was a senior. He was the man. I learned from him and others. I want to lead the younger guys so when they’re in my position they’ll know what to do.”
New coach Paul Davis watched Helzer rush for 1,102 yards and 16 touchdowns as a Lions assistant last season. Davis knows Helzer will fit perfectly as one of the Lions’ leaders.
“I know that he’s very excited,” Davis said. “He sees great possibilities this year. He’s been in contact with the other kids and has been talking to them during workouts.”
Helzer’s emergence as one of the Lions’ vocal leaders began last season in a brutal road loss against Gainesville Lone Star North. Known for their size, athleticism and toughness, the Tornadoes came out and physically dominated Calvary with an easy score on their opening drive.
The game went downhill from there.
It was Helzer, though, who gathered his stunned teammates and inspired them to keep fighting despite ultimately being overwhelmed in a devastating defeat.
“It was a pretty tough situation in the first quarter,” Davis recalled. “But he kept the morale up. He got the kids up. The kids looked up to him. On our second drive, we drove the ball and he was leading the way.”
It was his competitive nature that spurred Helzer to try to rally his teammates.
“They kind of tossed us around in the first half,” Helzer said of the Tornadoes. “Some of our guys had their heads down. I told them we had to keep battling, and we couldn’t just give up. We didn’t get the win, but we showed that we can battle through hard times.”
The Lions went on to finish 5-6 overall and 2-4 in district play.
With the return of 11 of its 12 starters, Calvary will be a much more experienced team this fall. And Helzer won’t be the only senior that supplies the Lions with game-tested experience.
Calvary’s defensive line will be anchored by two seniors, Brice Coffey and Brandon Overton. Coffey brings great size at 6-6, 240 pounds. Overton led Calvary with 46 tackles last season and has a knack for getting to the ball carrier.
Another senior, Joseph Schmidt, is expected to return at one of the linebacker spots. Helzer will be joined by fellow senior Gage Pirkle in the secondary.
“Pirkle is a great ball hawk,” Davis said. “He’s got good speed. He had a couple of big interceptions that ended games for us last year, games that came down to the last drive.”
Another returning senior, David Lewis, battled through injuries much of last season and is expected to log most of his minutes at linebacker. He will also get some snaps at running back after racking up 669 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago.
“He’s a sideline-to-sideline linebacker,” Davis said. “He’s got good speed and he’s a tough kid.”
Another key returning veteran is junior Beck Hillman. He is expected to start at quarterback, play in the secondary and handle kicking duties. A year ago he rushed for 283 yards and threw five touchdown passes before a broken wrist midway through the schedule ended his season.
“He gives us a lot of speed in the backfield,” Davis said. “He can fly. He’s got good wheels. And on defense, anything that came to his side, it was a tackle. He didn’t miss too many tackles.”
Davis will no doubt lean heavily on his upperclassmen this fall. And while Helzer may be among the busiest of those seniors, the coach knows he’s got a reliable leader he can count on both on and off the field.
“[Helzer] plays, literally, every play,” Davis said.