NH recipe: Upgrade offense, strong defense
Ross Schulz, Contributing Writer
This fall will be the 10th season for North Harrison head coach Mark Williamson to roam the sidelines leading the Cougars.
To say his tenure has been a success would be an understatement. Prior to coach Williamson, North Harrison managed four winning seasons in its history dating back to 1978. The Cougars have secured winnings seasons in five of Williamson’s nine years, including two undefeated regular season and conference championship campaigns, in 2015 and 2017.
With all of that success, one would think the 10th season would be business as usual.
That will not be the case, however, as Williamson decided to revamp the offense and put it in the hands of coordinator Preston King.
“I wanted to make a change offensively because I felt like what we’ve done in the past was good and it made us competitive,” he said. “We actually won a couple conference championships doing that, but I felt like to beat the real good teams in the tournament we had to do some things offensively different.”
Williamson said he knew on the bus ride home from Salem last year (after a 28-14 defeat in the semi-final round of sectional play) that he wanted to make a change on offense.
“Good teams are going to make you do bad things,” he said. “We have to be able to convert 3rd and 15s.”
Williamson said King will have complete latitude with the new offense.
“Up until it’s crunch time,” he said with a laugh.
The offense will feature some shotgun formations, two running backs and more three-receiver sets. However, many of the plays will look similar, the coach said.
“He (King) likes to throw the ball more,” he said. “I don’t know that we’ll throw it 10 times a game, but we might.”
The coach said 10 pass attempts per game is a good number, one they have always tried to get to.
“But when we get to the end of the year and I look at the stats, we don’t quite get there,” Williamson said.
While the offense may look a little different this year, Williamson hopes the defense will be the side of the ball that gets all the headlines.
“We could be really good defensively, and, if you’re really good defensively, you’re going to be really good, period,” he said.
The entire defensive unit from last season is basically intact.
“That’s what makes me excited about this team,” the coach said. “The 2017 team was really good defensively, and I think this team has better personnel, upfront for sure.”
The Cougars will have a strong senior class led by multiple contributors on both sides of the ball.
“That senior class, they were really immature as freshmen,” Williamson said. “I had them in class; I ran them for a whole month. But, they’ve gotten here. (Nick) Gunter and Chase Allen have worked hard; (Colten) Hickman has worked hard this year. They’re really good football players. They’re big.”
Upfront, the Cougars have four seniors and a junior on the line led by the strongest player on the team, Cody Cottrell. The others are Landon King, Noah Marrs, Noah Kendall and tight end Brodey Miller.
“Marrs looks great,” Williamson said. “He’s every bit of 6 feet, 6 inches, 275 (pounds). To me, he should be one of the top two or three linemen in the conference.”
Another senior the coach complimented was Michael Lone.
“He’s one of the hardest workers in the program. He’s consistent; he’s always here,” he said.
Williamson said they’ve tried him at multiple positions and he will definitely see the field this fall.
Along with Marrs, King is another returning all-conference performer on the line. A third all-MSC lineman, junior Colten Cahill, will start the season on the sideline recovering from an ACL injury.
“He’s in great shape; we’re just waiting on the doctor to clear him,” Williamson said.
Quarterback Colt Beach will lead the attack, with backfield mate Gunter.
Gunter will be one of the biggest backs in the conference, Williamson said.
“Beach has gotten a lot better,” he said. “A year older, a year wiser.”
Hickman will also see time at running back and will start at safety on defense.
Garrett Schroeder will be one of the starting linebackers on defense. He was a bright spot in the sectional loss last season, with 17 tackles.
“He’s hung in there with us,” Williamson said.
While the senior class of 11 is full of bulk, the junior class has more of the skill position players led by starters Kaleb Kellems, Sawyer Wetzel, Maddox Pellman, Landon McIntire and newcomer Riley Schneider.
Kellems, a 6-foot-4 wide receiver, will be one of the best players at his position in the Mid-Southern Conference, Williamson said.
“Schneider is nipping at his heels,” the coach said. “I’ve never seen a kid not play football and then come out and pick it up so quick. Everything. He understands everything; he gets it. He’s one of those that you tell him one time and they got it … When he decided to play football, I didn’t know what a great day that was at the time.”
Schneider will start at safety and Kellems at cornerback.
“Those two won’t come off the field,” Williamson said.
Wetzel will man the other corner position and will also be one of the top ball carriers on offense. Hickman, Allen and sophomore Owen Whittaker will also share the ball at running back. Williamson said one freshman, Colten McKinney, will likely see the field on Friday nights.
“He’s one of our fastest guys,” he said. “He’s not scared, and he gets it.”
Another freshman that has impressed the coaching staff is quarterback/safety David Langdon. Also, Will Leffler, a sophomore who will start at linebacker, has had one of the best preseasons of anyone on the team, Williamson said.
The entire special teams unit returns, which is a huge positive, the coach said.
At 58, after 35 years of coaching football, Williamson admits he is entering the twilight years of his coaching career.
“I’m closer; I don’t know how close I am,” he said of hanging up the whistle. “This is my 35th year. That’s a lot of sunburns, getting rained on, trying to find a gym when it’s raining. A lot of all that.”
North Harrison will open its season Friday, Aug. 20, in Ramsey against Salem with kickoff at 7 p.m. The coach said it’s an important game for his team.
“It tells you how your season is going to go,” he said. “If we don’t beat them in overtime last year and Corydon in overtime, we don’t have a winning season,” he said.
A scrimmage with West Washington will take place Friday at 7 p.m., also at home.
The end of the season will look different, with South Spencer and Providence added to the schedule while Clarksville (which has moved out of the MSC) and Crawford County are off.
The sectional once again will be a difficult one to navigate with strong programs like Southridge, Heritage Hills and Gibson Southern in the field.
Next week: Previewing the Corydon Central Panthers.