High School Sports

Zach Helbing becomes Mulvane’s secret scoring weapon

Mulvane's Zach Helbing (21) runs back a kickoff for a touchdown against Andale earlier this season. It’s one of his six touchdowns that have all come outside the Wildcats’ offense.
Mulvane's Zach Helbing (21) runs back a kickoff for a touchdown against Andale earlier this season. It’s one of his six touchdowns that have all come outside the Wildcats’ offense. The Wichita Eagle

Six touchdowns in a season doesn’t sound like a lot.

But it is for Mulvane senior safety Zach Helbing, who is having an improbable season of scoring non-offensive touchdowns. Helbing has scored six times — twice on a kick return, twice on a fumble return, once on an interception, and once on a punt return.

Although he doesn’t play much on offense, Helbing remains a dangerous weapon for Mulvane (8-2) as it prepares for Friday’s Class 4A-I quarterfinal game against Buhler (9-1).

“He’s a big-time weapon for us on defense and special teams,” Mulvane coach Dave Fennewald said. “He’s just got a good knack for where the football is going to be and he runs very well to the ball. Sometimes he gets a little out of position, but he can make up for it because he’s so fast.”

Helbing says he doesn’t know how to explain why he’s been in the right position so much. While some of it can probably be chalked up to random luck, Fennewald said Helbing puts himself in the right position constantly.

From his safety position, Helbing is tied for the lead in tackles on the Mulvane defense with 110 total and in interceptions with four. He has also forced three fumbles and recovered four.

“I think first of all, we have a great team defense,” Helbing said. “We’re really good at forcing turnovers and I think that helps a lot. We just try to take advantage of whenever we get a chance.”

Not only does Helbing cause havoc on defense, but his biggest impact on games may be felt in special teams. Helbing is averaging 30 yards per kickoff return and 41 yards per punt return.

“I think a lot of teams don’t really think a lot about how they return kicks and that’s not the way we do things in Mulvane,” Helbing said. “Most teams just run it up the middle, but we actually have different blocking schemes and I have some great blockers. It works out really well.”

That is, when teams actually kick to Helbing.

Fennewald estimates teams stopped kicking to Helbing about midway through the season.

“I’m OK with it,” Helbing said. “It’s a little frustrating, but I think it’s still a really good feeling knowing that you can help out an already great offense with field position. I just want to help our team get momentum.”

While kicking away from Helbing may prevent a long return, the trade-off is giving Mulvane’s offense a short field. Pooch kicks usually mean Mulvane takes over on its own 35-yard line or better.

That’s not exactly an ideal situation for defense trying to slow down Mulvane, which is averaging more than 420 yards of offense and 45 points.

“It’s so great having Zach back there,” Mulvane quarterback Jayden Price said. “Even if he doesn’t return it, we’re getting great field position and that just sets up our offense. It takes a lot of pressure off of our offense.”

That’s what Helbing hopes to do against Buhler, the team that knocked the Wildcats out of the playoffs last season. Mulvane hasn’t reached the semifinals in the playoffs since 2012.

“We feel great going into Friday,” Helbing said. “We played them tough last year and now we’ve got a lot more experience. We know what to expect and we definitely feel confident going into the game.”

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