Cougars seek to keep momentum
Trajectory for the North Harrison High School football program has trended upward in two brief seasons under the direction of coach Mark Williamson.
Entering his third year, if the line on the win-loss graph continues to rise (2-8 in 2012, 5-6 in 2013), it would mean a winning season for the Cougars. Those, historically, have been hard to come by for those in royal blue and white.
‘I like our chances of having a winning season,’ Williamson said. ‘That’s one of our goals. North Harrison has only had four in the history in the program. These kids would celebrate a winning season for a long time. Whatever record takes, 6-3, 6-4, we’d take it if given to us today.’
Within the program, the Cougars are striving for more and want to be in the hunt for the Mid-Southern Conference title. The front-runner and defending Class 3A sectional champ Brownstown Central, ended North Harrison’s play-off run last season.
Since the arrival of Williamson, a point of emphasis has been the strength program.
Benefiting from the work in the weight room has been seen in the trenches along with the offensive backfield.
‘We are huge,’ Williamson said. ‘Our offensive line is big and strong.’
The key to the offensive line begins in the middle with senior center Jerammi Knable, a three-year starter. He’s developed quite a rapport with quarterback Jack Phelps, seen as an advantage by Williamson.
‘I can’t remember any bad snaps last year,’ Williamson said. ‘They work well together. It’s good they’ve worked together for three years, a big bonus.’
Knable checks in at 5 feet, 10 inches and 255 pounds. He’ll have to look up at his teammate to the left on the offensive line. Junior Isaiah DeGrasse stands at 6-6 and 300 pounds at left guard. Next to DeGrasse at left tackle was slated to be senior Chris Washnock (6-4, 250), but he’s nursing an injury. Slated to fill in are sophomores Nick Foley (5-9, 220) and Collin Smith (6-2, 250).
Moving to Knable’s right, at guard is Mason Keeling (5-10, 230), a junior who started some games last season along with veteran Dustin Nevil (6-0, 255) at right tackle. Nevil, a senior, started two seasons and was named one of three captains.
‘Dustin is the second-strongest kid on the team,’ Williamson said.
As if the O-line isn’t big enough, at 6-3, 270 is the tight end, senior Kye Walk joins them.
‘That’s a big offensive line all around,’ Williamson said. ‘It reminds me of a Castle offensive line back in the heyday. We’re deep on the line. It’s about the only place we are truly deep.’
Running behind the line is juniors Sam Best and Austin Nevil. With the graduation of Brandon Craig, Best and Nevil combined to carry for more than 1,200 yards as sophomores.
‘Sam Best is up to 240 (pounds) and our strongest kid,’ Williamson said.
The boss said Best read an article about Henryville graduate Griffin Uhl, who went from not playing high school football to walking on at the University of Louisville, as inspiration.
‘The Henryville kid did 1,700 (bench press, squat and deadlift combined total) in high school and, when Sam read that, he wants to get there,’ Williamson said.
Best totaled 1,500 this offseason and has a goal to deadlift 700 pounds.
Nevil can be just as bruising out of the backfield. At 5-8, 200, Nevil had five touchdowns last season.
‘He’s very strong, finishes runs and sees the field really well,’ Williamson said.
Also circling in at the back spot is senior Austin Reynolds (5-9, 180). Evan Goodman (5-8, 200), is listed to play at fullback as a sophomore.
Making the calls at the line of scrimmage is Phelps (5-11, 195), returning for his third season at quarterback. He tossed for more than 500 yards and ran for five touchdowns a year ago.
‘I really believe him being a three-sport kid, including golf, has helped him as a quarterback,’ Williamson said. ‘In golf, he worked hard, going from shooting 130 to in the 80s. I feel that has helped him, along with playing basketball.’
Phelps was tabbed as a captain as well.
‘I’m expecting him to have a good year,’ Williamson said. ‘He’s a captain, but we don’t expect him to do a whole lot. What he does is get us in a good run play at the line. A lot of what we do in run plays is called at the line of scrimmage by him.’
Freshman Avery Blocker is the likely backup and has a bright future, according to Williamson.
Where the offense is thin is at wide receiver. Trey Kuerzi is hampered by a minor injury to start the season and will miss one game.
‘He’s probably our fastest player,’ Williamson said.
A newcomer, senior Chase Spencer, comes to the football program after playing golf in the spring. At 6-0, 170, Williamson has been impressed with his play. Other wide-outs competing for play are Lee Manwaring, Garrett Nokes and Ethan Hamby.
‘We need more quality, depth and experience at receiver,’ Williamson said. ‘We have to develop those guys and, hopefully, by the end of the season, they will be up to speed.’
Offense is where Williamson sees the Cougars having success.
‘Our key offensively, we have to stay on schedule,’ he said. ‘We can’t have bad plays or pre-snap penalties or put the ball on the ground. If we keep from doing those things, we’ll be tough to stop. We feel good where we are offensively.’
On defense, North Harrison has the duty of replacing the linebacker core of Mike Clark, Brandon Stokes and Brad Missi, all lost to graduation. Defense has improved under Williamson, going from giving up 32 points in 2012 to 24 in 2013.
Experience returns on the defensive line with Best and Austin Nevil at ends and Knable with Dustin Nevil clogging the tackle spots. Walk, DeGrasse and Foley provide support in back-up roles.
Best earned Class 3A preseason All-State honors by Indiana Football Digest.
Linebacker is where the Cougars are thin, trying to replace the trio. Goodman slides in at middle linebacker, while Hamby and Nokes play on the outside. Hamby saw some action at safety as a freshman last year. Austin Nevil could also play linebacker.
Williamson said the team will fill the secondary with Reynolds and Dayton Cannon at defensive back. Kuerzi is the top safety, but, until he returns from injury, Spencer, Manwaring and Ethan Watts will rotate in the spot.
The defense is young and inexperienced at some positions, but Williamson said the personnel could change as the season chugs along.
‘Normally, when the season starts, positions are set,’ Williamson said. ‘This year, on defense, we could be moving people around in week four. With our youth, we may have to do that to find the right combinations. It may happen the first few weeks, or they could all fit and play well when we start the season.’
Filling the kicking duties will be Phelps, who had a game-winning field goal last year versus Silver Creek, while Goodman and Knable will do the snapping on special teams.
Williamson is confident the physical makeup of the Cougars will have them ready on Friday nights.
‘We are a team you don’t really want to play because, A, you’re not supposed to lose to us and, B, it’s going to be physical,’ Williamson said. ‘You’re going to be beat up after the game. We’re a double-chinstrap game. We are built that way. They are huge and strong. I’ll be surprised if there is a team physically stronger than us in the conference.’
The key to the season may be the start. After beating Crawford County a year ago, the Cougars dropped four straight. On the flip side, North Harrison went 4-2 in the final six games.
‘The key part of our schedule is early,’ Williamson said. ‘We can’t be like last year, beat Crawford then lose four in a row. Last year, we felt like we kept those four games kind of respectable. Because we weren’t getting blown out, it kept our morale when the schedule got better for us. Last year, there were some moral victories, but, this year, that isn’t in our vocabulary.’
The Cougars will begin the season Friday at 7 p.m. at Crawford County Junior-Senior High School.
‘We’re cautiously optimistic,’ Williamson said. ‘Our kids all like each other, and there is good camaraderie.’