The 2016 football season started out well for Harris County High School, but the Tigers hit a major bump in the road after the third game. Their 3-7 record (0-4 region) was disappointing for first year head coach Zac Howard and his team.
“Played well at the beginning of the season, 3-1,” said Howard. “Hit an injury bug and never could recover. Didn’t have many D-linemen, forced to run a 3-man front. Should be able to return to a 4-man this season.”
Football is a big high school sport just about everywhere these days. Friday night lights in Harris County, however, have a special meaning for residents and fans. The Tigers have a huge fan base and draw big crowds. The school is the only high school in the large Georgia County and everyone comes out to support their home team.
Loyalty runs both ways. There is an unspoken sense of responsibility for the local team to give the Tiger Nation a good game to watch each week. The 2017 season is looking more likely to produce such games.
The Tigers will be returning six offensive starters. Only one offensive position was lost from last season. According to Howard, there are high expectations for that group of players. Among those athletes is Cal’von Harris, the 2016 team leader in rushing. Harris, 6’ and 200 lbs., had 103 carries for a total of 697 yards. The running back is a top college prospect for the Tigers as well.
He is joined by Connor Wills (OL), Landon Kirk (OL), James Moore (OL), Chris Hardaway (OL) and Queito Leonard (WR) as the returning starters on offense.
Five defensive players will be returning starters, too. Trevon Hudson (DB), 5’11” and 170 lbs., is one of, if not the, quickest players on the team. A top college prospect for the Tigers, Hudson can run the 40 Yard Dash in 4.3 seconds and is returning along with A.K. Wortham (LB), Cayde Anderson (DL), Cohen Perry (LB) and Eric Conley (DL).
Even among these bright stars, there is a little shadow cast on this year’s team. Howard says the team’s greatest weakness is being “very undersized.” He sees a need for some leaders to take charge this season. A staffing change may be the catalyst to get the team going that way, but he is cautious about the process.
“New D.C. and WR coach,” he said. “We’ll have to start slow on defense to make sure the system and terminology is well understood.”
After one year as head of the Tigers football program, Howard is better able to develop a coaching philosophy for his team and set goals for the coming year. For the offense, as simple as it sounds, outscore the other team. He has been coaching for over 15 years but says “football has become an offensive game with up-tempo styles and the advancement of RPOs (run/pass options).” His defensive strategy is “bend but don’t break.”
For 2017, Howard wants to simplify the system, keep the pace of practice fast and be more disciplined on the field. The biggest challenge facing his team involves adjusting to the new defensive coordinator and changing defensive systems again.
Last year may be in the record books, but it doesn’t mean Howard and his team can’t still learn from the 2016 season. Hard lessons often bring about the greatest change.
“We need to understand that a ‘coach led’ team can only carry you so far. A ‘player led’ team has the possibility to carry you the distance,” Howard said.
Discipline is key to Howard’s program at Harris County. His players work all year on strength training, conditioning and footwork drills. He holds them accountable for attending practices, being punctual and making good grades. There are study halls every Wednesday during the season and he gets grade reports on his athletes every four weeks. He knows a team can play a good game but one day the whistle blows and it’s all over.
“My main goal is for them to grow up to become great husbands and fathers,” he said.
Columbus Valley/Football Previews/August 2017
Harris County High School
By Beth Welch