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Summer bonding has Cougars primed

Summer bonding has Cougars primed
Summer bonding has Cougars primed
Under a warm sun, North Harrison football player Drew Kuerzi stretches before a short practice session on Monday. Photo by Brian Smith

As the sun started to set beyond the baseball diamond Monday night in Ramsey, North Harrison High School football coach Mark Williamson’s voice went up a few notches to ensure squeezing in as many snaps as possible.
‘Hey, let’s go. This is not a long break!’
On command, the Cougars’ players extracted a few extra drops of water and headed back for the coach’s instructions.
After a moratorium week set by the Indiana High School Athletic Association, where coaches in all sports can have no contact with players, Monday was the first chance for a reunion. As the final weeks of the summer break approach, Williamson typically desires a scrimmage versus another area team.
When potential games with Providence and New Albany fell through, Williamson decided to host a few optional summer practices with helmets and pads.
Monday, before they hit the practice field striped with orange lines, players put in weight-room work followed by running on the track. A series of 200-meter sprint repeats under a humid sun came with a small perk: the field’s sprinklers came on to provide relief.
‘It was a little hot at first when we were running, but it felt good to get back on the field with my brothers,’ North Harrison’s Chase Johnson said. ‘I’m excited for the season.’
Once on the field, Johnson said he was hit with a bit of emotion. He’s been part of North Harrison’s undefeated Mid-Southern Conference championship seasons in 2015 and 2017 with a growing role through the years.
‘This is our first practice, other than team camp, since last year,’ Johnson said. ‘It wasn’t an official practice, but it hits you that this is that last first practice. It hit me pretty quick when I started to think about it.’
Blake Schickel has bought into the Williamson and Cougars’ football system. One of four senior captains ” joining returning all-state running back Jaylen Peake, Colton Sieberns and Johnson ” Schickel knows the amount of work put in when the stands are empty outside of Friday nights.
‘We know what is at stake,’ he said. ‘If we lose one game in the tournament, we know that’s the last game for a lot of us.’
Schickel has evolved through the years on the defensive side, giving his coach an option in a linebacker role, but he also has the speed to play in the secondary if called upon.
‘Most of the seniors have had a role on the football field in the past, and some have stepped up when injuries have happened,’ Schickel said. ‘We’ve known our roles in the past have contributed to the winning over the last few years. It’s a lot more serious for us this year.’
It was a record 11-win season in 2017 for the Cougars. While they graduated several veteran pieces, Williamson knows he has another talented senior group in 2018.
He told his players, after what he called a ‘short but sweet practice,’ they are the team others in the MSC are going to gun for after compiling 28 wins during the previous three seasons.
‘You have to stay hungry,’ he told them as darkness crept over the field.
There is one prize North Harrison football is still chasing: a sectional title. One way to get there is team bonding.
West Harrison, along the Indiana-Ohio state line near Cincinnati, was the team camp location for the Cougars this summer. They did go without a key ingredient, their head coach. Williamson missed his first team camp due to a muscle injury in his leg.
‘It was tough because coach Williamson wasn’t there,’ Sieberns said. ‘Our assistant coaches had to step up, come together and be the head coaches. It turned out to be our best camp I went to since I’ve been at North Harrison.’
Sieberns said most of the players knew coach Williamson was going to keep tabs on the team, which he was able to do by watching film and getting reports from assistants.
Football makes up much of the time at camp, but what happens off the field can sometimes carry more weight.
‘We were up all kinds of hours throughout the night just sitting out on the practice field, under the lights, just talking to each other,’ Schickel said. ‘A lot was about everything we’ve done and the work we’ve put in so far. It’s a lot of work when you think about it, but we start to see who we can trust. We realize who we are as a team, and it sets the tone for the season. Three practices a day at camp isn’t easy.’
‘We got better,’ Johnson added.
Williamson took over a muddling North Harrison program in 2012. That first year, he guided the Cougars to a 2-8 record but reminded supporters to be patient. Come 2015, with athletes buying into his weight-room program and coaching philosophy, North Harrison football had an undefeated regular season and won its first MSC title.
‘Coach is everything,’ Schickel said. ‘He’s like a father and an uncle. He’s a person you trust with your life. It’s so much more than football. He’s the person that makes football more than a game, but to take more from it for life. I’ve come to realize football is about team and family.’
The family came together ‘ team managers and football alumni as well ‘ on Monday with the first taste of the summer heat.
‘We have to realize this is it,’ Sieberns said. ‘This is our last time playing with these guys. The underclassmen know they have another year or two with their brothers, but this is the only year we will have this team. We were underclassmen before, so we know you don’t want to let down the seniors.’
The bond will extend beyond the players, coaching staff and managers come Friday. When North Harrison couldn’t find an opponent for a summer scrimmage, Williamson organized a learning day for the mothers of football players. Football 101 with moms will take place Friday.
The build up for the season opener continues before a week-one trip to Salem on Aug. 17.