Hayes calling the shots at Harrison Central
By KIM NORTH
Times Leader Sports Writer
CADIZ — Anthony Hayes, a 1996 Cadiz High graduate, has taken over the Harrison Central reins after veteran head coach Justin Kropka stepped down following last season — his 13th. However, Hayes is no stranger to the Huskies program as he served as an assistant coach for 11 years under Kropka.
“It’s an exciting time to be at Harrison Central,” Hayes said after being hired in the summer. “We’ve got a new school being built and we just had turf installed at our stadium prior to last season.
“There’s a lot of passion for football here,” he continued. “There’s also a lot more kids to choose from then when I played, and we want to keep those numbers increasing.”
Harrison Central has 39 kids out this season, with 19 of whom are returning letterwinners.
“Our numbers are a little better than they have been. We’re right around 40 kids. Last year we ended with 27, so the numbers are OK, but, don’t get me wrong, they are not where they used to be, but we’re taking steps in the right direction to fix that problem,” he noted. “Having an off-season to recruit our student body, I think that will help us as well.
“We have a lot of returning lettermen. It makes it a little easier on me in one sense, but I tell people we have 13 seniors on our roster. Those are very, very inexperienced seniors. Those are guys that were probably forced into playing some and a lot of them were probably not ready to play on Friday nights, but it does give all of those kids a chance to look back and understand what took place on Friday nights,” he stressed. “Now we have to figure out how to prepare so we can be competitive on Friday nights. Before, we had experience and knew what it took to play. What do we need to do to allow us to play at a higher competitive level.”
Hayes, 40, almost didn’t become the Harrison Central head coach. In fact, he was named the head coach at Toronto a couple of weeks before Kropka shocked the Huskies’ community with his resignation. The, after looking at the situations, he decided to resign from Toronto to become the Huskies new head coach.
“I’ve settled in rather quickly. A tight time frame kind of forced that issue,” he said. “We’ve picked up right where we left off last year with knowing the kids, the program, and the coaches. We really didn’t miss a beat. We picked up right where we left off at, so now we’re in the thick of things.”
He did say however, that coaching at his alma mater fulfills a lifetime goal.
“I laid in bed the night after I got hired and I had that sense of peace,” he added. “You start thinking about everything you’ve worked for your entire professional career, and you take a look and realize that now you have an opportunity to see those goals come to fruition, and that ultimate goal of being a head coach at Harrison Central is a dream come true.”
Offensively, the Huskies will line up as they have in the past.
“A lot of similarities. We’ve done a lot of things here for a long period of time with Coach Krop(ka) that worked. That system was very similar to the system that I played under when I was at Cadiz High School,” he said. “As the game changes and evolves you always try to add in a few wrinkles whenever you can and try to utilize the personnel that you have as proposed to trying to pound that square peg into a round hole. We want to make sure that we build our system around what we have.”
Harrison Central’s offense will be centered around speedy senior tailback Tyler West (5-11, 151). West ran for 1,607 yards and two dozen touchdowns last fall on 164 carries. That comes a year after picking up 1,447 and scoring 12 TDs as a sophomore. He had 479 yards and seven scores as a frosh.
“He is such a diverse player that he can play, obviously he can dot the I with the best of them,” Hayes said of West who has 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash. “He is, in my opinion, one of the better dual threat skilled players that we’ve had in terms of he can line up at receiver and play that position as well as anyone in the valley. On top of the fact, that in my opinion, he’s in the group of top running backs in the area.
“He can do a multitude of things. He’s picking up blocking in the passing game. He’a a Swiss army knife and that creates a lot of problems for opposing defenses. He has that tremendous second gear speed. In track he’d be a great 200-meter dash runner. He’s got that second gear that creates seperation from everyone else.”
Joining West in the backfield are three dependable ballcarries in senior Damon Carpenter (5-10, 196) and juniors Tucker Coultrap (5-11, 179) and Cale McAfee (6-1, 170).
“We are blessed with skilled players. We have four kids that we can count on to carry the ball with effectiveness,” Hayes stressed. “McAfee can play back there, as can Carpenter. In my mind, Carpenter is in a position where he’d be one of the best tailbacks in the Ohio Valley. He is a very, very good running back. He’s a lot bigger after blowing out his knee as a junior in week 3. He missed a lot of games but stepped in as a sophomore when Tyler (West) got banged up and probably rushed for 500-600 yards. He’s a thick, bruising type runner, but he’s also extremely skilled in catching the ball out of the backfield.
“Coultrap is another good runner. He played quite a bit last year and has done an outstanding. He’s got some speed that you won’t know it until he gets to the second or third level.
“We’ve got four guys in the backfield and I feel comfortable with any of them.”
As for the fullbacks, Hayes smiles when he said, “they are interchangeable with the tailbacks. Whomever is playing tailback will be playing fullback.”
Others ticketed for duty in the backfield are junior Lee Sponaugle (5-9, 156) and freshmen Nic Evans (5-8, 136) and Nathan Bertolino (5-8, 153).
Starting his first year at quarterback is electric sophomore Kobe Mitchell (6-1, 155). He didn’t take a snap under center last season and replaces three-year starter Wyatt Elias.
“Kobe is a three-sport athlete, and when I say that about the kid and hear a three-sport athlete, it gets me excited because that means that kid is a competitor,” Hayes smiled. “If he wasn’t the leading scorer on basketball team he was really close. He also played baseball.
“He’s progressed really quickly in camp and in two-a-days. He’s starting to realize what we’re doing and he’s starting to realize how to breakdown the game of football in his mind, and not have us spoon-feed him information and tell him what to do with the ball every play,”Hayes mentioned. “He’s starting to be able to make those decisions on his own, and that’s carrying over to helping other kids, as well.
“Kobe is athletic enough to run and pass. He can do both and he’s starting to throw the ball really well. He is deceptively quick. He doesn’t look like he is, but he is.”
Junior Mark Smith (6-1, 162) is the backup QB.
“He’s progressed enough that if we have to make a change or something would force our hand, Mark is more than capable of coming in and doing a good job.”
The offensive line is a jumble right now, but Hayes likes what he’s seen.
“We’ve had a lot of kids back-and-forth at different positions along the line,” he said. “I’ve told them you’re not a center, you’re not a guard, you’re not a tackle. You are an offensive lineman, so all of our skills that we’ve learned at each of those positions are transferrable. You have to be able to play every position.”
At center is sophomore Ronald Pauley (5-10, 170).
“Pauley is doing a nice job. He’s still a baby but he’s still learning.”
He’s being challenged by juniors Bryce Wade (5-10, 156) and Haden Stull (5-8, 191).
“We have a few kids we think can play at that position, but the idea is who is going to seperate themselves from the pack in terms of competition every day in practice,” he added.
The guards will be senior Cody Gamble (6-1, 231) who Hayes said “has done a really good job so far.”
Seniors Josh Croft (6-0, 212), Eric Perry (6-5, 220), Zach Marbais (5-11, 172) and Blayne Erwin (5-11, 197) are also in the mix.
“I think because we’re so thin that everybody has to play multiple positions. Right now we are going to take guys in-and-out,” Hayes explained. “We’re planning for the worst-case scenario. We ran into that last year. We had just a weird, freakish camp as far as injuries go. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Our job is to make sure we prepare everybody to the best of our abilities, so should something unfortunate like that happen again, we’re ahead of the curve.”
Whomever isn’t playing guard is going to play tackle, according to the head coach.
Junior John Dannehl (6-1, 221) is another player working in there, as are juniors Albert Taylor (5-9, 260) and Blaine Milliken (5-9, 165); sophomore Jeremiah Unterzuber (6-7, 240); and freshmen Logan Ellis (6-0, 181), Matthew Smith (5-8, 147), John Wagner (5-8, 183), Dillon Drapp (5-8, 215) and Braxton Slone (5-7, 170).
“We’ve got about 10 guys that we are going to rotate in there. I expect all of them to get time on Friday nights,” Hayes said. “It allows us to rest some guys on either side of the ball and keep them fresh. These kids have to be ready to play whether it’s varsity or JV. We don’t want to throw them out there on a Saturday for junior varsity action if they are not prepared. We have to coach each kid equally.”
The receiving corps are deep and talented.
McAfee, Carpenter and Mark Smith will see action at tight end.
Senior Caden Dalton (5-11, 152) did a very good job last year.
“Another good kid. Very athletic and runs patterns very well.”
Senior Payton Taylor (6-2, 187) is another player that will see playing time.
“He is kind of guy that as a coach you enjoy coaching,” Hayes admitted. “Whatever you tell him to do, he’ll do. He’s very skilled as well.”
Also listed at wide receiver are seniors Joe Rogers (5-10, 148), Preston Haney (6-2, 163) and Job Positano (6-1, 143); sophomores Skyler Mazeroski (6-0, 165), Kanyon Coleman (6-0, 144) and Jesse McLeod (5-8, 139); and freshmen Trevor Carman (5-8, 143), Gabe Marbais (5-8, 123), Brian Hendershot (5-6, 132), Jonathon Vermillion (6-4, 159) and Ethan Moreland (5-7, 165).
“We’ll flex out our running backs, as well,” Hayes noted.
Defensively, the Huskies will switch up alignments as needed week-to-week.
“People keep asking me what type of defensive team we’re going to be,” Hayes said. “That’s a funny question that everyone keeps asking. We are built to run is what I’ve been telling people.
“Make no mistake about it. We are not blessed with size. We don’t have those hole-pluggers that we’ve had in the past. We do have guys that need to get to the ball, and I think they can do just that.”
The ends will be Perry, Croft and Blayne Erwin.
“We’ve got three nice ends in Perry, Croft and Blayne Erwin,” Hayes said. “Those kids have all done an excellent job thus far in camp. In my mind, I think they are starting to get it. This past week in two-a-days, I saw a light switch flipping on. We tell them they have to play with a surge of urgency. In the past we’ve had bigger, thicker guys that would take up gaps and just sit there and you couldn’t move them. We don’t have those kind of guys anymore, so we have to play with a sense of urgency. We have to be sound gap-sound.”
The tackles will be the same guys plus Dannehl and Gamble, who will also see action at nose guard when the Huskies deploy an odd front.
“Cody Gamble has a shot to have an incredible senior year,” Hayes allowed. “He’s a really good wrestler, and a big, strong kid. You can tell he’s paid his dues in the weightroom in the off-season. He’s committed to making himself the best he can possibly be. He’s a very coachable kid and he’s a big part of our defensive line.
“To be honest, the way Cody goes is the way we go. We need to maximize his effort. It will take two guys to block him.”
Others in the mix are Vermillion, Ellis, Matthew Smith, Hull, Wagner, Drapp, Slone, Z. Marbais, Taylor and Unterzuber.
The linebackers are to Hayes’ liking.
“It’s nearly the same group as our running backs,” he said. “They can all run to the ball and that is what we need. Our team speed on defense is pretty good.”
Carpenter, a two-year letterman, is “a very good football player. Very skilled.”
Mark Smith is in his first year at linebacker.
“I like his motor a lot. He gets after the football.”
Coultrap and Pauley will also see quality time.
“We kind of have hybrid-type players,” Hayes said. “I just wish we were a little bigger, but I’ll take guys that can run any day.”
Other linebacker candidates include McAfee, Carman, Gabe Marbais, Haney, Sponaugle, Milliken and Blayne Erwin.
Hayes thinks he has two of the best cover cornerbacks in the business in Mitchell and Dalton.
“Kobe started last year as a freshman and really did an outstanding job. In my opinion, he was one of the better coverage corners in the valley that I saw last season.
“I think we are in really good shape back there.”
West will also rotate in secondary.
Taylor will man the free safety slot.
“He’s been in program for four years. Can’t say enough about him,” Hayes said.
“I like what I see in Carman,” Hayes noted. “Sure he is young, but the effort is there.”
Rogers is also ticketed for duty.
“He’s been out of football for a little while, but he’s done a really good so far. I’m excited about what he brings to table.”
Other defensive backs include Coleman, Hendershot, Evans, McLeod and Moreland.
Special teams should be special for the Huskies as Positano returns as the placekicker and will also handle the kickoff and punting chores.
“He did a lot of kicking for us last year. One of the finest kickers in the area,” Hayes praised. “He’s a soccer player who has really taken a liking to football.
“I give Coach Kropka kudos because he was always able to work magic with kickers,” Hayes added. “He maximized their potential.”
Helping make the transition for Hayes even smoother is the fact that nearly the entire coaching staff was retained.
“Basically the same with the exception of Justin. We have everybody back in place except one guy,” he noted. “We have a pretty nice mix of young and experienced guys.”
That staff includes Brian Mays (OL/ILB), Willie Walker (WR/CB), Ty Kenney (QB/Safeties), A.J. Barsch (RB/OLB), Bill Bryant (DL/OL) and Mark Smith (DE/OL). Cain Noble will assist with the defensive line and also serve as the team’s equipment manager.
“Brian was my coach at Cadiz. He’s been around for 37 years,” Hayes said. “He’s given a lot to the Harrison Hills School District. Even though he might walk a little slower, he shows up every day with the same fire that he had when I played in 1995. Real happy to have him.
“We’re starting to get our alumni base back. We have Willie (Class of 2006) who played at West Liberty University. He’s been here a few years with us. He’s one of the finest wide receiver coaches in the valley. I think the results our receivers have produced over the years he’s been here shows what he has done with those guys.
“Ty Kenney is another alumni coming back. He’s a former quarterback. He’s back teaching and coaching. We’re happy for that.
“We’re still a young school district. We’re only 20 years old, but we’re just now being able to form an alumni base. We’re starting to see those guys and ladies come back to coach.
“AJ is in his third year with us. He’s a Buckeye Local grad, and is one of the younger coaches who are light years ahead of a lot of coaches.
“Bill is the head wrestling coach and has done a tremendous job there. That’s where ‘athlete sharing’ comes into play.
“Mark is an addition to the staff. He’s been really helpful so far.”
The Huskies’ schedule has undergone a major change from last season.
“Our schedule will be more challenging than it has been for the last 5-6 years. We’ve picked up Garaway and from all I’ve heard from their camp, this is going to be one of the better seasons for them,” Hayes said. They have a good junior and senior class. I’m expecting to see the best Garaway team since their regional finals run. Week 1 right of the gate we will be challenged.”
Other newcomers include Bell from Washington, D.C., Lucas and Lutheran East. They replace East Hardy, Cleveland Rhodes, Edison and River View.
The Huskies scrimmaged Cameron at West Liberty and hosted Wheeling Park.