Cougars aware of being new kids on the block
Another season is set to kick off in the Mid-Southern Conference and, once again, the same teams are spoken of to finish near the top of the standings.
There is Brownstown Central, a program that’s perennially near the top, having 10-win seasons the previous four campaigns. Not far off from the conversation is Charlestown, posting winning records since 2007 while Corydon Central has been on the positive side of .500 since 2009.
Last season, North Harrison crashed the party, going 9-0 in the regular season to win the program’s first MSC title. Having graduated a pair of backs in Sam Best (1,721 yards, 21 touchdowns) and Austin Nevil (1,263 yards, 17 touchdowns), there is reason to believe the Cougars won’t repeat.
After all, according to coach Mark Williamson, North Harrison is ‘new money.’
‘I still think we will be pretty good,’ Williamson said. ‘We aren’t getting a lot of pub, but that’s OK with us. We are new money until we put together several winning seasons in a row. We aren’t there yet.’
Reflecting on the 2015 season, Williamson said they’d love to repeat the effort, but, most of the time, it isn’t the way seasons go.
‘It was fun, and so many positives came out of last year,’ he said. ‘Our kids have a little more confidence in the football program. It was a great year as far as no injuries and discipline issues. It was one of those special years you’ll never forget.’
Off a team that graduated seven players from a 9-1 season, Williamson must fill some voids. Three were two-way players, while the remaining four were contributors on one side of the ball.
‘It was nearly 3,000 yards rushing between (Best and Nevil) and maybe two lost fumbles,’ said the fifth-year coach. ‘I’d be a fool to think we’d get that kind of production out of those positions this year.’
For the Cougars, it begins with strength up front. Nick Foley, a senior center, returns for his third straight season at a starting spot. To his right will be added experience back in senior classmates guard Collin Smith and tackle Levi Senn.
‘They are strong kids,’ Williamson said. ‘Collin is 6-3, 305 and a good drive blocker. When he gets on you, it’s hard to get off his block. Levi is our strongest bencher and our best drive blocker.’
New to the line is junior Devon Carter, a player Williamson first met in seventh grade and wondered if he’d ever develop into a high school performer.
‘I thought then, there was no way he’d touch a varsity football field and here is starting as a junior at guard. It’s all about how hard he’s worked,’ the coach said.
There’s competition at the opposite tackle spot between Joe Allen and Floyd Central transfer Scott Williams, both seniors. A move-in last Christmas from New Albany, junior Dylan Linne has impressed the coaching staff on the offensive line as well.
‘We don’t want to think we’ve dropped off on the offensive line,’ Williamson said. ‘I think we’re going to be able to score points.’
At quarterback, Avery Blocker had no problems running the offense as a sophomore. He’s grown to 6-foot-2 and will be looked to throw the ball a bit more.
‘He’s probably our most well-conditioned athlete as far as physical strength, stamina, muscular endurance, the whole package,’ Williamson said. ‘He’s a football junkie. He’s a good quarterback and probably a better safety than quarterback. He can play.’
The backfield, once the line blocks, has senior king back Evan Goodman there to clear more space. He’s typically the first back through to drive open holes for the power ground game.
There are several backs competing for carries. Juniors Brett Rudolph and Josh Kemp figure to get the pigskin often and pound through the tackles. Sophomore Jake Harley and senior Devin Sweeney are the speed guys. Harley’s speed for a young player has impressed Williamson thus far and figures to sneak in to burst past tired defenses. Tate Griffin is the back-up king back.
‘I’d like to be more balanced this year,’ Williamson said. ‘You have to be able to throw the ball 10 times per game to win championships. I felt last year that wasn’t our best option with the makeup of our team.’
It helps having strong receiving options. Seniors Jake Troxell, Ethan Hamby and Lowell Bezy figure into the pass-catching rotation.
‘Troxell has the chance to be one of the best receivers in the area,’ Williamson said. ‘Any time we throw the ball up to him, he seems to come down with it.’
Hamby was the team’s leading receiver a year ago with four catches. Nick Parker is slotted at the tight-end spot.
A year ago, North Harrison gave up 18.5 points per game, including a pair of shutouts. Williamson believes he has a stronger 11 to put on that side of the ball in 2016.
‘I didn’t feel we had 11 varsity-ready players on the defensive side of the field last year,’ he said. ‘I don’t know how well we’ll play defense this year, but I know we have 11 varsity, Friday night players.’
On the inside of the line, Senn and Foley (three forced fumbles last year) will play both ways as they did last year. Kemp, Rudolph and Parker will rotate at the end spots. Sophomore Colton Sieberns has looked good in camp, according to coach, and, along with junior Austin Chadwick, figures to see snaps.
Positive for the Cougars is the return of two of their three linebackers, including middle Goodman. Hamby maintains a spot on the outside along with newcomer Griffin. Goodman paced the team in tackles the last two seasons.
Kohona Wilks, a junior linebacker, moved back to North Harrison after living in California for a number of years.
‘He’s a real fine athlete,’ Williamson said of Wilks. ‘He’s one of our top five tacklers, if not better than that.’
Junior Josh Craig also figures in at linebacker.
The secondary returns Troxell, who had three interceptions a year ago at corner. Griffin, the former junior varsity quarterback, jumps into a starting role at corner.
Blocker is back at safety while Bezy, a fill-in guy last year, is trusted into a full-time role at right safety.
A deep sophomore class of athletes include Drew Kuerzi, Zane Armstrong and Harley, who can fill in at secondary spots.
On special teams, kicker Ben Waynescott, a junior, returns. Also a soccer player, he knocked through 28 extra points last year and continues to improve.
‘I like him a lot; a good student and a good kicker,’ Williamson said of the player who will be looked at to punt this year as well. ‘He’s really gotten into it and gone to a kicking camp. He’s a great athlete that did well at high jump during track season.’
With the success of last season, Williamson said there was a peak of 70 kids at one point of spring workouts. The roster is steady at 57, which is a positive. Fifteen are seniors with a bulk in the sophomore and junior classes. The freshmen class, however, is small.
‘When I first went to camp with this senior group ‘ four years ago to now ‘ they have really developed,’ Williamson said. ‘They’ve been a big part of what has happened with North Harrison football the last couple of years. They don’t want it to diminish on their watch. These seniors are set to win more football games in a class than any other class in program history.’
Maintaining the identity of a physical and disciplined team figures to continue.
‘We won’t roll over,’ Williamson said. ‘We will fight through adversity.’
The Cougars will open their season Friday at Crawford County.