|Fri, Dec 13, 2013 10:15 AM
|Issue of December 11, 2013
August 21, 2013 | 09:18 AM
There is a buzz around North Harrison High School about the football program even though the school year is fresh.
So much scuttle exists that second-year coach Mark Williamson was thrown off by a student's request last week.
"I had three different students ask me if there was going to be a fan bus to the scrimmage," Williamson said. "I've never been asked that before, but I like the buzz going on."
North Harrison will finish the regular season with what record?
Campus hype over the sports programs has come from Williamson teaching weight-lifting classes for all athletes at North Harrison. He said players from other sports have shown support for his football program while his team is out showing love to their schoolmates' teams.
The North Harrison football program hasn't had much tradition, with its last winning season coming in 2006.
When the 2012 season ended with a loss to Salem in the Class 3A Sectional opener and a 2-8 record, the players took a two-week break. When that two weeks was up, Williamson learned quickly that his juniors then (seniors this year) were buying into the program.
"We started the Monday after Thanksgiving, three days a week after school," Williamson said.
The dedication of his nine seniors — Mason Miller, Trevor Bottorft, Mike Clark, Brandon Stokes, Brad Missi, Chaz Mertz, Taran Rennirt, Brandon Craig and Gary Blankenship — was evident in the attendance of offseason workouts.
"Say it was 100 total workouts among nine guys, which is 900 opportunities. I bet we had less than 20 missed senior workouts. It was unbelievable," Williamson said.
The coach admits that the offseason was on par with some of the best he had with successful teams as an assistant coach at Castle. Following golf season, senior Joseph Hinton joined the team in the summer while classman Nathan Wayman, a soccer player, will do the place kicking.
Williamson said the commitment to the in-school classes and the after-school workouts is the reason he is confident.
"Now we're confident and have a little swagger," Williamson said. "It has made all the difference in the world with the investment they've put in. It's a lot of time. You can see the intensity in practice and our scrimmage. At the scrimmage, we had an intensity I never saw last year."
It started with the senior group's commitment. Williamson said they have "led by example" throughout the offseason and into practices.
Part of the creating confidence, strength, speed and swagger through the weight room, Williamson pointed out sophomore Sam Best as an example.
"He's a kid I really didn't know last year. At the end of last season, he's 6-foot, 170 pounds and bench press max was 165 and squatted maybe 230," he said. "Now, he's 6-1, 230, runs 4.9 (40-yard dash), benches right at 300, squats close to 500. It's like he backed up to an airhose. He'll start at defensive end for us."
As a program, 19 players reached the 1,000-pound club, the sum of maximum lift on bench press, squat and deadlift.
"But, believe me, I get it; Friday night isn't a weight-lifting contest, but it has given our team a lot," Williamson said.
On the field, Williamson said the defense has come along nicely and should be greatly improved. One of the keys is eliminating big plays out of their base 4-3 cover-two scheme.
"Normally, coaches say their defense is always ahead of the offense this time of year," Williamson said. "With the defensive scheme we run, I've never felt that way. But right now, our defense is ahead of our offense."
The strength of the defense is with the defensive ends that include team captain Miller along with Best. The second line of defense is linebacker core, led by three returning starters: Clark, Missi and Stokes. The safety spot is a strength Williamson points out as well with Craig leading the way.
"At our seven-on-sevens, I felt Brandon Craig was the best player there of all four teams," the coach said. "Of course, I'm biased, but that's what it felt like. He'll play tailback, receiver and has gotten a lot better at safety."
Trey Kuerzi is a sophomore safety, while Taran Rennirt, Austin Reynolds and Tyler Jones battle for the defensive back spots. Clogging the middle defensive line will be Chaz Mertz and Dustin Nevil.
"We're just a lot better, plain and simple," Williamson said. "We're a lot tougher mentally and physically."
On offense, Jerammi Knable is the lone returning starter on the line and has moved to center. Surrounding him will be Clark, Nevil, Trevor Bottorft and Chris Washnock.
Split end will be Gary Blankenship, while flanker is Kuerzi with Hinton rotating in reps. Miller returns as the tight end.
The backfield remains in-tact from a season ago with junior Jack Phelps doing the signal calling. Williamson said he is confident in his backfield with Stokes at fullback with Craig as the main tailback. Craig carried for 602 yards last season. Jones and Nevil add depth to the position.
"Jack has gotten much better at the quarterback position," Williamson said. "For his size, he has pretty good speed. We have good depth at the running back spot, too."
Wayman has come over from the soccer program to provide his right foot on special teams. The punting duties belong to Kuerzi.
Another exciting part of the upcoming season is North Harrison will field a full nine-game junior varsity schedule.
"I think they'll be a competitive team," Williamson said. "We have 13 freshmen, and our sophomore class has some really nice players. Both groups have a lot of potential but need the years in the weight room."
While the roster may not seem deep with 41 players, Williamson is quick to point out that they dedicated themselves to football in the offseason.
"We have 41 kids, but it's 41 guys that we can count on," he said.
As the program continues to improve each year, the head coach believes the numbers will continue to improve. Ideally, Williamson said he'd have 15 players per class.
"I think it's going to be a fun year," Williamson said. "Record wise, we might finish 2-8, but we're going to be a much better 2-8 team. But we'll be competitive all the way around. I don't think we're going to embarrass the school again."
When the success comes for the Cougars, Williamson said it will be owed to the senior class' commitment to the offseason.
"Our summer camp went well, and we're executing pretty darn well defensively right now because they were committed," he said.
The Cougars will open the season Friday when they host rival Crawford County at 7 p.m. Winning 50-6 a year ago, North Harrison leads the overall series 5-1.