Cougars to increase competitive drive
The expectation for the North Harrison football program is to be competitive each week and show daily improvement.
This comes from head coach Mark Williamson, who enters his first year at the helm of the Cougars’ program.
Williamson comes with a strong background, having been a long-time assistant at Castle, which included a state championship. His first turn as a head coach came at Franklin County, where he inherited a 2008 one-win program and transformed it to a sectional runner-up at the Class 4A level in 2010 and 2011.
The Cougars are coming off a 4-6 season under Greg Burton, who spent just one year under the headset. Having gone through three coaches in as many years had hurt North Harrison in numbers.
‘We’ll have to bump the numbers the next couple of years, but right now we are at 37 kids,’ Williamson said. ‘It’s a concern, but one thing that hurts numbers is the coaching carousel. That is to be expected.’
Williamson took over in the early summer and saw 80-percent attendance in each of the 18 scheduled workouts.
‘I thought it was a pretty decent summer,’ he said. ‘We got all of our terminology on offense and defense installed. We didn’t play any 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 scrimmages so we could work on ourselves.’
The summer work led to the start of official practice, which included a week of two-a-days followed by a single practice schedule last week. It closed with a scrimmage against veteran team West Washington.
‘I thought we ran the ball pretty decent,’ Williamson said of the scrimmage. ‘Our offensive line executed pretty well. We put the ball on the ground one time on a contact fumble, but we ran our limited offense for this time of year. We’ll expand as the season goes on.’
Offensively, the Cougars will mainly feature an I-formation set. Sophomore Jack Phelps will be under center at quarterback. Brandon Craig, Brad Missi and Chaz Mertz, all juniors, will assume roles in the backfield.
‘We’ll have two senior receivers in Derrick Harter and Steven House, but, as a unit, the receivers have a ways to go in consistently catching the ball,’ Williamson said. ‘We’re an I-formation team, but we will have different looks. We’ll dabble with spreading wide receivers out, but we’ll look to be most effective with the I-formation.’
Williamson said the strength of the team thus far is the offensive and defensive lines. David Adamson, Zach Burdin, Devin Bledsoe and Cheyenne Rouse are among the experienced players in the trenches.
‘We have decent size and decent mobility,’ he said. ‘The one thing we lack is physical strength.’
An addition to the program is an improved weight-room facility along with a head coach with an emphasis on strength training. Becoming bigger, faster and stronger, however, will take a year or two to take effect.
A base 4-3 cover-two defensive look will become familiar to fans.
‘We’ll play it as soon as we step off the bus, and we’ll get back on the bus playing it. When an opponent gets into a rhythm offensively, we have the ability to adjust our scheme within the 4-3,’ Williamson said.
He said he’s been pleased with the play of defensive ends Mason Miller and Dalton Fessel. Defensive tackle Burdin, a senior, also has stood out.
‘Our linebacking core has a ways to go,’ Williamson said. ‘Steven House in the secondary was moved from corner to safety because he’s a physical kid that can tackle well.’
Many of the skill players are underclassmen, while the line is more of a veteran group. One thing key to the Cougars is staying the course throughout a game and season.
‘We won’t throw away what we do and start over,’ Williamson said. ‘If things don’t go right for a few plays or games, we will remain consistent with our routine and continue to correct ourselves and get better.’
Tackling is an area of concern for the coaching staff. During the scrimmage, about 20 missed tackles were noticed out of 47 snaps. Despite the misses, Williamson said the team was aligned correctly for the most part and ran to the ball with good pursuit.
‘(Tackling) won’t be fixed overnight or during the season because tackling is directly related to athletic and physical ability,’ Williamson said. ‘With the new weight room, as our strength improves, we become better athletes. Once we get bigger, stronger, faster, our tackling will get better.’
As for expectations, Williamson wants to be competitive within the Cougars’ schedule.
‘More than anything, I want to see improvement every week, where we hit our crescendo playoff time. That is our goal regardless if it is my first year or year 10,’ he said.
Thus far, the morale in the locker room has been positive and attentive to the coaching staff.
North Harrison will open the season at Crawford County, a program that has gone 1-29 during the previous three seasons.
‘This first game is important for us and the entire season,’ Williamson said. ‘We want to get off to a good start on the road and play well.’