CADIZ — After going 4-6 in each of his first two seasons at Harrison Central head coach, Anthony Hayes and the Huskies compiled a 5-4 mark during the whacky COVID-19 season in 2020. However, two of those nine contests were playoff encounters, even though one resulted in a forfeiture win.
That might explain the influx in numbers as Harrison Central has 45 players competing for positions this season.
“We’ve had a great off-season. Everybody lost a big part of their off-season last summer because of the pandemic, but we had a great off-season in the weight room,” Hayes, who is 13-16 in three seasons, explained. “From December on we’ve had 30-plus kids in the weight room every day, so we’re really excited about that. We think there is a correlation between kids committing to the weight room and our numbers increasing for football, as well as all the other sports the school offers.”
The increase in numbers is also a product of losing just four seniors from last year’s squad that received a forfeit from Rootstown in the Division V, Region 17 playoffs due to COVID before falling to a powerful South Range squad in the second round.
Coach Anthony Hayes on the Huskies’ upcoming campaign
“All four of those guys that graduated contributed to our program in one way or another,” Hayes pointed out. The 2020 seniors were Kobe Mitchell, Ron Pauley, Kanyon Coleman and Brian Hendershot.
Mitchell, a 4-year standout on both sides of the football for the Huskies, was a first-team all-Ohio selection last season. The University of Akron basketball recruit set numerous school records in both football and basketball.
“He was extremely talented and like any team, you’re going to miss a player like that on the field,” Hayes said. “But the impact he had on the kids below him, not only in our program, but all around the Ohio Valley will be long-lasting. His work ethic and being a multi-sport athlete is something the younger kids looked up to.
“All eyes were on him whenever he took the field.”
Pauley was a 3-year starter on both sides of the ball. He led the team in tackles.
“We only had those four seniors, so a lot of kids got to play the last two years,” Hayes added. “Even though some of the sophomores played as freshmen, that’s still varsity game experience.”
The Huskies welcome back 15 lettermen, with seniors Trevor Carman (5-9, 175) and Jonathan Vermillion (6-4, 185) already having earned three letters.
Five others have lettered twice already in their careers.
“I like our kids competition so far,” Hayes said. “We are very skilled this year and where we averaged around 165-170 pounds on the line last year, we’re going to average around 225 this year.
“We’re excited for the kids but we also have to wait and see what happens when we put on the pads and the lights come on.
“We haven’t had any contact so far. We’ll see how they react to it, but up to this point, I think we are ahead of where we were at this time in any of my previous three years.”
He said that experience will really come into play this season.
“Some of our guys have seen a lot of playing time because they were thrown into the fire early in their careers for one reason or another,” Hayes continued. “They’ve went through their bumps and bruises with us, but they’ve grown since then. That’s the thing.
“We knew four years ago when we took over as a staff that we were going to be in a tough situation because our talent and numbers were down. Getting things in order they way we wanted them was going to be a process that we also knew, but with the continuity we have on our staff — the same coaches every year — it is paying dividends for us. The kids are hearing the same things from the same coaches every day, and not just during football but while they are walking the halls at school.”
Offensively, the Huskies have a lot of work cut out for them in trying to replace Mitchell, who threw for 2,035 yards and 21 touchdowns, while only throwing four INTs.
Sophomore Hayden Cassidy (5-10, 160) draws the tough assignment.
He is currently battling junior Jace Madzia (6-2, 170) during camp. Cassidy started as a freshman for the basketball team last winter.
“Hayden saw some playing time last year,” Hayes said. “He’s a quick learner.
“He is always going to be compared to Kobe because he is the next guy. It is what it is,” Hayes noted. “I’ve told him that it isn’t fair, but life isn’t fair sometimes. I’ve told him to just be who you are, bring your skill and your assets, and your mind ready to learn every day.”
Hayes said Madzia has made things interesting during camp.
Sophomore Alex Fluharty (6-3, 160) and freshman Seth Reed (5-9, 209) will see JV and freshman action.
While there is inexperience at quarterback, that isn’t lacking in the backfield or wideouts, which is something that has Hayes smiling from ear to ear.
“We have skilled players for days,” he stressed. “We are very deep at our skilled positions, but we don’t have much depth on the interior. We just need to make sure whomever the next guy is knows what he is doing as far as our base offense goes.”
Carman will be one of those players who carries the ball as well as catches it.
“I’m biased but if it hadn’t been for Kobe last year, Trevor may have had the best season in the Ohio Valley,” Hayes said after Carman snagged 49 passes for 869 yards and 11 touchdowns to earn second team all-Ohio honors.
“He can play in the backfield, in the slot or on the outside.”
His versatility is what Hayes likes.
“Catching footballs isn’t always just the job,” he said. “You can make teams change what they do. If he catches 50 balls this year, great. If he catches 35 and someone else catches 35, that’s okay, too. That means somebody is uncovered for us.”
Other possible targets include Vermillion, a 3-year starter on offense; senior Gabe Marbais (6-0, 155); juniors Tre Rex (6-4, 175) and Josiah Jones (5-9, 160); sophomore Parker Hutton (5-10, 185); and freshman Cam McAfee (5-9, 165).
Vermillion had 29 receptions for 465 and five scores.
Hayes said he feels comfortable playing seven or eight guys at wide receiver.
Paving the way for the skilled players are a seasoned group of interior linemen, led by senior Matthew Smith (6-1, 210) at center. The guards are junior Caleb Cowans (5-9, 230) and sophomore Nic Malone (5-10, 220), with junior Cabot Arbaugh (6-3, 235) and sophomore Hunter Boals (6-1, 230) at the tackles. Arbaugh was honorable mention all-Ohio last season.
Defensively, the Huskies will switch to a 50-stack this season.
Holding down the end spots will be Boals and Matt Smith. C. Arbaugh is the nose guard.
The linebackers are a solid group.
Bertolino, an all-Ohio honorable mention selection last year, will man the middle. J. Vermillion has moved from defensive end to outside linebacker. Cowans is a 3-year starter.
The Huskies employ three safeties in Carman, Hutton and McAfee. Hutton was honorable mention All-Ohio last year.
Rex, Jones and Pierce are battling for the lone corner spot. Pierce has two letters already.
“It’s very much up for grabs. We have a lot of potential there.
“One day one guy is the best. The next day there is someone else who is the best. They are all battling for playing time. Making us choose the best is a good thing.”
Madzia, Rex and J. Vermillion are competing for the punting position.
Madzia, a 2-year vet, handles the kicking.
A couple of new faces will dot the 10-game schedule with Buckeye Trail, East Liverpool and Beaver Local.
Varsity assistants include Bill Bryant, Ty Kenny, AJ Barsch, Mark Smith, Ian White, Cain Noble, Drew Case, Rick Hlivko and Phil Reed. Junior high is led by Orion Bengier. His assistants are Ed Bengier, Cale McAfee and Mark Smith.
Nathan Bertolino, Trevor Carman, Gabe Marbais, Riley Kubic, Gavin Ravapi, Matthew Smith, Daniel Thornton, Jonathan Vermillion and JT Wagner
Cabot Arbaugh, Caleb Cowans, Josiah Jones, Jace Madzia, Wyatt Pierce, Tre Rex, Lucas Soos and Drake Watson
RJ Belon, Hunter Boals, Hayden Cassidy, Alex Fluharty, Nic Fluharty, Nate Frye, Parker Hutton, Nic Malone, Tevan Palmer, Colton Tanner and Clayton Vermillion
Reed Arbaugh, Blake Atkins, Jacob Bodenheimer, Konner Davis, Markus Hilbert, Bobby Hoagland, EJ Keener, Austin Lucas, Cam McAfee, Brady McPeak, Anthony Pelegreen, Mykel Quito, Seth Reed, Landon Stull, Brice Tanner, Ashton Tweedy and Brodie Yeager