Harrison Central confident if healthy
CADIZ — Anthony Hayes and his Harrison Central Huskies got a late start to the 2018 season, but they finished strong with three straight wins to finish 4-6 in his first season as head coach. The 41-year-old wasn’t hired until late May, so there wasn’t much time for a lot of planning and such.
Now, with a full year on the sidelines and a complete off-season with the players and coaches, Hayes likes what he sees from his squad as it prepares for what could be a rugged 2019 campaign.
“The biggest thing is having a full offseason to work with the kids and kind of solidify what we are trying to do as a program. Not only was it beneficial to me, it was also beneficial to the coaching staff and the kids,” he said while watching his team go through a workout on the two-year-old artificial surface at Wagner Field. “I was hired on May 31, after being hired and resigning at Toronto, then in four weeks we were starting camp here at Harrison. That extra time has been beneficial to everybody.
“It’s been some years since I’ve been a head coach. You don’t forget about it, but you kind of lose sight of things that are involved with being a head coach outside of the x’s and o’s of things,” he added. “Figuring out my plan of attack and having everything in order so that the season will go a little smoother, again I think it goes back to having that year to fully prepare. Now you know what to expect and what things are going to come up and such.”
The Huskies have 34 players on this year’s roster. Nearly half of them — 15 — are returning lettermen. They have dropped from Division IV, Region 15 to Division V, Region 17, which also includes OVAC entrants Barnesville, Bellaire, Edison and Martins Ferry.
“We are just excited that it is football season once again. Our players, school, and community look forward to Friday nights at Wagner Field. We moved down to Division V this year from Division IV and I’d say that is probably about where we belong in terms of enrollment classification,” Hayes said. “Our numbers have went up and down over the past five years, but I believe that we will probably stay where we are now for a while. In terms of the effect that it has on us in the grand scheme of things, I do not believe it becomes a factor until you reach the postseason. If we take care of business each week and win, what more could you ask for? We try to stress to our kids to worry about what you can control and what we can control is our preparation and execution. Do your job.
“We have some kids that have some experience from last year playing at different positions this year. We have right around 35 kids. We’re going to play our best kids, young or not,” he continued. “Our kids have to be ready to go. If we think they can do it mentally, we’ll get them ready physically. If they think they can do it mentally and we think they can hold that much, we’re going to play them.”
With that many players and another tough schedule, Hayes stressed, as has many coaches around the Ohio Valley, that his team needs to stay healthy.
“Last year, injuries devastated us. We have to stay injury-free, but I think every coach in the Ohio Valley can say that,” he noted. “I’ve talked to a lot of coaches and numbers are thin all around. That’s a process of continually recruiting your hallways and trying to get kids to come out for sports. We’re in the era of specialization and I think that kind of hurts a lot of programs.”
He said that coaches at the school are working together.
“We’re working with the other coaches here at Harrison Central in trying to get more kids to play multiple sports,” he added. “We’ll keep working on that. The biggest key for us is just staying healthy. If we stay healthy, the 11 (players) we put out there on Friday nights, I feel perfectly fine with.”
One player the second-year head coach isn’t worried about is ultra-talented quarterback Kobe Mitchell (6-2, 175). He is a two-year letterwinner, earning one last year as the starting quarterback as a sophomore when he passed for 1,682 yards and 17 touchdowns on 55 percent accuracy (114-209).
“He’s coming off a really good sophomore year in his first year as a starter. He kind of captains our offense. I think he has taken a little more of a leadership approach this year, and that comes with maturity. The kids will follow his lead, so he’s become multi-faceted,” Hayes praised. “Everyone knows he can throw the football, but the overlooked part of his game is his ability to run with the ball. He’s bigger, stronger and faster than he was last season.
“He’s competing at the highest level in basketball. He’s a competitor. He hates to lose in anything. With him at the helm and a year under his belt, I think that makes us a lot better,” he stressed.
“The kids feed off of him. He’s that type of competitor. Heck, if he gets the wrong Lunchable, he’s going to be mad about it. He wants to compete for everything, so if we get kids up to his mentality, I don’t think all kids are gifted like he is, but if they can you his mentality approach to things, that will make us better as a program.”
Backups include classmate Clayton Nunez (5-8, 175), a transfer from Oklahoma; and freshmen Jace Madzia (5-7, 140), as well and Drake Watson (5-6, 120).
“After Kobe and Clayton we drop off fast to those young guys,” Hayes admitted. “We want to make sure we get those two young guys a lot of reps and live action. All of those guys are multiple-sport athletes. When you have those type of kids on your team, you’re going to be fine.”
When Mitchell hands the ball off it will likely go to one of four players: seniors Tucker Coultrap (5-11, 190) and Cale McAfee (6-1, 190); and sophomore James Brooks (5-10, 190). McAfee is a three-year veteran. Coultrap has two varsity letters.
“Tucker split time with Tyler West last year. Coultrap rushed for 533 yards and three touchdowns. He also led the team in tackles (73) at linebacker,” Hayes pointed out.
“Cale also carried the ball a good bit as a sophomore, not as much last year. He is one heckuva defensive player. He’s one of the best defensive players I’ve coached here, and we’ve had quite a few,” Hayes said of the projected strong safety/outside linebacker.
“James’ dad played here. We look for big things from James,” Hayes said.
Also in the mix are promising freshman Caleb Cowans (5-9, 185); senior letterwinner Lee Sponaugle (5-9, 160) and sophomore Nathan Bertolino (5-10, 170).
“We’re really excited about him,” Hayes said of Cowans. “As the season progresses and he stays healthy, he will help us at running back and linebacker.”
The receivers are led by sophomore letterman Trevor Carman (5-9, 165) who drew praise from his head coach for his effort of a season ago.
“Trevor started as a freshman at wide receiver and defensive back. He came on really strong at the end of the year. He found the end zone on both sides of the ball.”
Carman finished with some big receptions. He also had a couple of interceptions on defense.
Junior letterman Kanyon Coleman (6-0, 165) also provides a big target for Mitchell. Other wideout candidates are senior Arik Carman (5-9, 160); juniors Brian Hendershot (5-6, 140) and returning letterwinner Jesse McLeod (5-8, 150); and freshmen Josiah Jones (5-5, 115) and Wyatt Pierce (5-9, 145).
The tight end will be sophomore letterman Jonathon Vermillion (6-4, 180).
“He’s a basketball player. A big target,” Hayes surmised.
Also in the hunt for playing time are senior Hayden Wallace (6-3, 175) and freshman Cameron Bartrug (5-9, 140).
Even though it still early on, Hayes has liked what he’s seen up front, offensively.
“I feel pretty good about four of our linemen. We need to find another tackle,” he said.
Senior Haden Stull (5-9, 210) anchors the line at center. He has two varsity letters to his credit.
“Haden started the last seven games. He was solid. He gave us a strong performance all the time,” Hayes recalled. “We didn’t have to worry about that position.”
Also battling for playing time are two-year letterwinning senior Albert Taylor (5-9, 255) and promising sophomore Matthew Smith (5-10, 180).
“Matthew’s having a really good camp so far,” Hayes allowed. “He’s one of the younger kids that we are excited about.”
The guards are seniors Mark Smith (6-1, 190) and Heath Pizzino (5-7, 170). Smith has earned two varsity letters thus far. Pizzino has one.
“Both of those guys are very good at that position,” the head coach said. “Mark did an outstanding job last year. He started the season as our backup quarterback, but started at offensive tackle the last five games while still serving as the backup quarterback. He is a very versatile kid.
“Heath took last year off after starting for us at guard and linebacker as a sophomore.”
One tackle spot will be manned by two-year letterwinning senior Ron Pauley (5-10, 185).
“He was probably our most consistent performer last year. He started all 10 games,” Hayes added. “He has put on some size this winter. We’re looking for big things from him.”
Competing for the other tackle slot are seniors John Dannehl (6-1, 230) and Bryce Wade (5-10, 170); sophomores J.T. Wagner (5-9, 195), Dillon Drapp (5-9, 235) and Davis Christman (5-9, 165); and freshman Cabot Arbaugh (6-1, 235). Dannehl has two varsity letters. Wade has one.
Defensively, the Huskies will use multiple sets but will mostly lineup in a 3-3 or 3-4 alignment.
“It’s the same as last year. We will mix it up whenever needed, but the key is stopping the run,” he acknowledged. “We did a good job of defending the pass last year. Teams had trouble throwing the ball against us, but where we got in trouble was being out of position sometimes on the defensive line and our linebackers would overrun the play, allowing the opposing running backs a lane to run. We got gouged for big yards.
“The good thing, however, is that they were all correctable things. It’s not like we were outmanned … just mental things. When we looked at things over the summer as a staff, we realized that we weren’t necessarily outmanned. We just had mental breakdowns. Most of those breakdowns were because we played a lot of first-and second-year varsity kids and some freshmen and sophomores. That toll of the game, not only the physicality of the game but the mental part, as well.”
The strength will be in the linebacking corps where Coultrap, Pizzino and McAfee will roam.
“We’ve got a lot of speed and some natural ballhawks out there,” Hayes promised. “As a corp, we’ll see what happens on Fridays, but we’re excited to see them play.”
Brooks will also see time at linebacker, as will Cowans, Bertolino and Sponaugle.
The secondary will be as equally strong.
Nunez and Coleman will be the safeties.
“Clayton is a strong, athletic kid with good speed,” Hayes noted. “It will be nice to see what he can do when we put the pads on. Kanyon is a kid that we like his speed. He’s a hurdler, tall and lean.”
McAfee could also play safety.
The corners are solid in Mitchell and Trevor Carman. Mitchell had a trio of picks last season.
“Kobe should get all the accolades he receives offensively, but I think his defensive game is way overlooked,” Hayes pointed out. “I think he is one of the best defensive backs in the Ohio Valley. We can lock him on the other team’s best guy and not have to worry about him. Anytime you can do that it helps your game-planning.
“Trevor played that hybrid OLB/safety last year. He’s more physical this year.”
Others in the secondary include Arik Carman, Madzia, Jones, Pierce, Watson, Hendershot and McLeod.
The defensive line is where there is work to be done.
“We are a little thin up front. We are trying to build some depth there by getting a lot of guys reps,” Hayes said. “We are rotating 11 guys in there trying to see what parts of the puzzle are going to match.
“I keep telling these guys every day is a competition. You have the opportunity to win today and if you do, you’d better be ready to go tomorrow because somebody else is going to try and win tomorrow. That creates some competition in practice and that’s good for the team overall.”
Those players include Taylor, Wade, Dannehl, Mark Smith, Pauley, Vermillion, Wallace, Wagner, Stull, Matthew Smith and Bertolino.
“They’re doing a good job. We want to keep them fresh by rotating them in and out,” he said. “As coaches we never stop coaching kids, but when we find one we’ll stick with him.
“This is a great group of kids … top-notch kids that are always positive and are willing to work hard. They coach one another. Whenever your kids are coaching each other, that’s great. We, as coaches, can watch that and know that things are headed in the right direction.”
Other possible down linemen are Bartrug, Arbaugh, Drapp and Christman.
Special teams has always been a special unit for the Huskies. They have had the luxury of a couple pretty good placekickers over the years. This year seems no different as sophomore Ben Puskarich (6-4, 205) and Madzia are competing for the duties.
“Ben is a big kid. He never kicked a football until this year, but he’s been out here even before school was out,” Hayes noted. “He has good size. We’ve been blessed with some soccer kids over the years.
“Jace is just trying to grow into his feet right now.”
Vermillion is also competing for punting duties.
The Huskies schedule underwent a significant change from a year ago as gone are Bell Multicultural, Lutheran East and Lucas. New are Jefferson County rivals Toronto, Steubenville Catholic and Indian Creek.
“Nine of are 10 opponents are OVAC schools. I like that,” Hayes said with a smile. “There are enough good teams around here to compete against each other. It’s good for the communities. It’s good for the schools. It’s a good gate for both and rivalries can be built.”
The Red Knights will host the Huskies at Clark Hinkle Stadium in the Gem City in Week 2. Hayes was employed as head coach at Toronto for about a week last summer before the Harrison Central job became available.
“This is an old rivalry game dating back before Harrison Central. That was a big game for Cadiz and Toronto,” he recalled. “Toronto is a tough place to play.”
Harrison Central will also journey down U.S. 22 to Steubenville to meet the Crusaders in week 7.
“Playing at Harding Stadium on a Saturday night is going to be great,” he allowed. “Any time you get to go and play as a visitor at Harding Stadium is a big thing. That’s the mecca of high school football stadiums in the valley. Steubenville Catholic is a storied and tradition-rich program.”
The Redskins return to the schedule after a brief absence. They will trek to Cadiz in Week 9.
“(Head coach) Andrew (Connor) does a great job with his team,” Hayes said. “This is their big class of kids.”
Weeks 3-6 are Buckeye 8 tussles against Bellaire, Union Local, Martins Ferry and St. Clairsville. The first two are at home. The other two away.
“We all know how good Bellaire was last year and they’ve got 70 kids on their roster. That’s a tall task in itself,” he noted. “Union Local will be tough and play you hard, while Martins Ferry and St. Clairsville are really, really good, big physical programs.”
The Huskies will entertain Oak Glen in Week 8 before winding up with the VALES Game against Buckeye Local.
“Oak Glen is much improved. They’ve got a good, good group of kids. The quarterback can throw it out of the stadium. We had a battle with them last year up there.
“Coach (Roger) Herbert continues to recruit kids from his hallways. I know the wins haven’t been there the past few years, but I think he is doing all the right things,” Hayes allowed. “I see their kids playing hard for him. When they play us, throw the records out. Both teams play hard.”
Harrison Central opens the campaign by welcoming Garaway to Wagner Field on Friday.
“They are absolutely loaded. They have some of the best skilled personnel they’ve ever had,” Hayes pointed out.
“There are no gimmes. We have no off weeks. There are no softies on our schedule,” he insisted. Everybody is hungry for wins. You only get 10 chances, so we’re trying to get the fork in the meat before everyone else.”
The Huskies coaching staff is basically the same as it has been for a few years.
“We have a really, really good coaching staff. The chemistry is good. They coach year-round. No off time for them. That’s all I can ask.
“Former Cadiz legendary wrestling coach John Stephenson once told me, ‘I’ve never seen a guy wrestle a perfect match. So you’d better be coaching all the time.’ That’s always been my approach.”
In addition to the aforementioned West, also lost to graduation were Cody Gamble, Caden Dalton, Damon Carpenter, Josh Croft, Eric Perry, Zach Marbais, Blayne Erwin, Payton Taylor, Joe Rogers, Preston Haney and Job Positano. West and Gamble represented the Huskies in last month’s OVAC Rudy Mumley All-Star Game.