For better or for worse, the biggest surprise this high school football season might just be stop number 16 on News 25’s “25 Teams in 25 Days.”
Last year, Harrison Central produced its first winning season since 2013, but returns the smallest senior class yet of any school we’ve seen on tour.
That’s why it’s hard to place expectations on the Red Rebels as they fight the unknowns on their first day in full pads.
“Just ready. Just ready to get back to the feel of football. It’s been a while. All of these 7-on-7’s during the summer, none of that. We ready to hit.” Harrison Central may not have any first-day jitters when it comes to full contact, oh, but they’ll be there come August 23rd. Head Coach Casey Cain said, “When you’ve got a young team, it’s exciting to see what they’re going to do. Like you don’t know until you put them in the fire and face some adversity and then you’ll know exactly what you’ve got.”
Heading into the new campaign, the Red Rebels have more questions than answers after graduating 22 seniors, more than double Harrison Central’s nine-player class of 2020. Quarterback Gannon Stringer said, “With a smaller senior class, they’re good help. But having a bigger junior class is almost going to be like having two senior years. We’re the class that’s going to have to take over and be the leaders.”
Running back/ free safety Gino Johnson said, “Like a lot of people left last year, and then we don’t have a big senior class this year to work with. So we’re just trying to instill a culture in our young guys, our young boys, know to work hard so that they’ll be able to get a championship next year.”
And that’s not to count the Red Rebels out for this year on the back of their breakthrough 2018 season. With an overall record of 8-4, the first winning mark of the Coach Cain era, Harrison Central pumped the brakes on what had been a two-year post-season drought. “I thought it was real important. We had a good senior class and we knew the expectations of them, but we’re tired of – just like everybody else on the Coast – going to the playoffs. We want to win a playoff game and that’s what we’re striving for this year.”
Despite Harrison Central’s first round exit at the hands of Oak Grove, perhaps the bigger teaching tool was a loss at Ocean Springs the week prior. With a win, the Red Rebels would have hosted their first playoff game since 2015 and after that who knows. “It lets us know that every game counts. Cause like we were just kind of being lazy that week of practice just trying to kind of cruise into the playoffs, and then you see what happened that game. All those games that we lost during the regular season. And it just lets us know not to take any game for granted. All of them matter.”
“Oh yeah. It hurts, man. I mean we had it open, I mean it was there for us and we didn’t finish and take it serious enough I think, so this year is going to be all about finishing and executing.”
All-in-all, building on last year’s 5-2 district record is a good place to start. Still eager to bounce back from that third place finish, the Red Rebels are embracing the mystery of being a wild card in Region 4 Class 6A. “Oh yeah, there’s plenty of unknown. But I’m pretty confident in the group of guys we’ve got.”
“When we did our senior banners there was only nine of them so I said small things can come together and make a lot of big things happen. And so that’s what our kind of goal is hey, be a family. Be the nine leaders that I need for this football team, and so that’s what I’m expecting.”
Harrison Central returns seven starters overall, four on offense and three on defense.
The Red Rebels play the very first game of the high school football season on the Gulf Coast as the first leg of the third annual Port City Bowl. They will be taking on East Central at 5 p.m.