Cougars working in new faces on field
Brian Smith, Sports Editor
From one roster to the next, North Harrison had to delete 17 names from the 2018 roster to create a new slate of players filling out jersey numbers in 2019. Graduating one of the largest and most successful senior classes could be a cause for concern.
North Harrison coach Mark Williamson, who enters his eighth season (45-30), was asked if replacing the large graduating class was a concern.
‘Heck, yeah,’ he said. ‘We had 17 seniors, which is the most we’ve had since I’ve been here, and we have seven this fall.’
The infrastructure of North Harrison football remains solid as Williamson said the culture within the program remains strong. The transition from season to season shouldn’t be as difficult.
‘It’s starting over with new faces,’ he said. ‘It’s not starting a program over.’
He pointed out this will be the first time he won’t put the last name Kuerzi on a North Harrison football roster following the graduation of Drew Kuerzi.
‘But, we still have a Nevil,’ teased Williamson. ‘(Aaron) Nevil looks really good and he’s going to be a nice player. He will carry the ball a bunch.’
The previous senior class offered plenty of ‘football-smart’ players, according to the coach.
‘We are the opposite right now,’ Williamson said. ‘We may be more simple than we’ve ever been. In some people’s minds, that’s hard to do. But, our culture hasn’t changed. The commitment to the off-season continues. I’m guessing we had 90-plus percent or better attendance rate for the kids that weren’t in winter or spring sports when we started after Thanksgiving.’
On the offensive side of the ball, the Cougars look to fill the void Jaylen Peake (1,317 yards, 16 touchdowns) leaves behind after graduation. Nevil moves to the tailback spot after spending last season blocking in front of Peake. Nevil, a junior, will be joined by senior Zach Taylor in the backfield. Taylor led the junior varsity team in rushing touchdowns and tallied 300 rushing yards on the varsity squad a season ago.
Isaiah Lawson missed much of last season with an injury, but the junior is back to provide a utility-type player on the offensive side of the ball. He’s slated to start at tight end but could slide to wide receiver or tail back on a given down.
‘Nevil will be our main weapon running the football,’ Williamson said. ‘We are going to use Lawson a lot like we used (Jake) Harley last year. He will get his carries … Taylor will be our change of pace guy. They are all going to run between the tackles. Just because Taylor is a smaller guy (5-foot-7), he’s still going to go between the tackles.’
Handing the ball off will be returning 6-2 quarterback Jarrett Fenn. The senior threw for four touchdowns as a junior, compiling 356 yards.
‘Fenn had a good summer and slimmed down to 205,’ Williamson said. ‘He’s a big guy that looks like Cam Newton for a high school kid. He’s a lot more comfortable and confident. He’s had some ball-control issues in the past, but he’s been better since practice started. He’s our second strongest kid in the weight room.’
Also in the backfield is sophomore Nick Gunter at king back and junior Nick Alexander at fullback. Second-year player Colby Whittaker, a junior, is slated to line up at split end.
‘(Gunter) has come a long way since camp and will also start at defensive end,’ Williamson said. ‘(Alexander) is doing a pretty good job. He’s quick.’
One returner, senior Devin Troncin, started each game on the offensive line last season. Lucas Ables also saw time on the line and is back for his junior season. Sophomore Cody Cottrell moves into the center role with senior Zach Stewart joining Ables at the guard spots.
Troncin is penciled in at right tackle, while opposite of him is promising freshman Colten Cahill.
‘Cahill is 6-2, 275 and he looks good,’ Williamson said. ‘He won the starting job during camp, then, we decided to open it back up for the kids once we started our two-a-days. He got the job within three practices.’
Flipping to the defensive side of the ball, Troncin returns to the tackle spot. He’s the top returnee in total tackles with 46 (32 solo). Next to Troncin will be sophomore Landon King with Nevil (24 tackles, one sack) and Gunter at the defensive-end spots. Ables also will rotate in amongst the line as well.
At linebacker, Williamson said Lawson (28 tackles, one sack) has the makeup to be one of the best middle linebackers the program has seen during his tenure. Playing alongside him will be senior Dalton Baylor and sophomore Colt Beach.
‘Our front seven is the strength of our team right now,’ Williamson said.
He also cited overall team strength is better than a season ago. A large freshman class of 17 is football smart with a balance of size and strength should add future depth, according to the coach.
The secondary has been overhauled due to graduation. Dawson Howell, a senior, is joined by Taylor and Whittaker on the outside. Junior Justin Flickner also is in the mix.
‘We don’t have a lot of depth yet,’ Williamson said. ‘Our first 11 on both sides are solid. If we get some injuries or guys get tired, there is a drop off right now. We really like our sophomore class a lot, but we need to get them more experience.’
On special teams, Lawson serves as the punter while Fenn handles the long snapping duties.
Matt Nealy returns as the place kicker and kickoff specialist. Interestingly, soccer is Nealy’s primary sport, but he has attended nearly every football practice and workout in the offseason. He will serve as a back-up in the secondary and receiver.
‘He’s going to play soccer, too,’ Williamson said. ‘He’s practiced enough for us to feel comfortable to put him in the game offensively and defensively. I’ve never seen it before. Our practices and soccer don’t always run at the same time, so he’s been doing double practices some days. I don’t know how the kid does it. He’s earned the right to play for us and is one of our hardest working kids. He’s just a junior.’
Going 6-4 a season ago, it marked the fourth straight winning season for North Harrison. The Cougars lost a tight play-off game at Lawrenceburg to end the season.
‘I’m not going to sell this team short,’ Williamson said. ‘I’ve been around them, probably too much, but I’ve seen how hard they work. Just like any team I’ve coached here, the work ethic hasn’t changed. Their toughness is just as good as in the past.’
The veteran coach is ready for the challenge. He said with such a young team, there has been some immaturity issues, but they’ve mostly been resolved. Small things like having a clean locker room and beating the coaches to the practice field shows growth.
‘I’m not going to put a number on the wins,’ he said. ‘I told them at camp that I lost my voice because I’m impatient. I want things done right and I want it done now. I realize they can’t do that yet. It’s a process to get better. It led to our best practice of the year (last Wednesday). We will work to be the best team we can possibly be.’
The Cougars will open their football season Friday when they host Salem.