By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
Most of the players who will be wearing a Madison Central uniform today when the team takes the field for its season opener in Richmond have never started a game at the high school level.
Many of them have never even seen any real significant extended playing time in a varsity game.
“When you have such a young football team, you never know how they are going to respond when they get hit in the mouth real hard,” Central coach Bert Browne said. “This isn’t middle school football. This isn’t freshman football. So, you just never know until you throw them out there.”
The Indians will get tested right away.
Central is set to take on Harlan County in the second game of the Roy Kidd Bowl at Madison Central High School.
Game time is set for 8 p.m.
Murray and Bryan Station will play in the opening game, which is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.
Harlan County won 11 games last season and advanced to the semifinals of the Class 5A Playoffs before falling at home to Cooper, 17-7.
The Black Bears have 14 starters back from that team, including standout senior linebacker Carson Whitehead.
“They are awful good. They return just about everybody from last year,” Browne said of Harlan County. “We just going to have to go out there and see what happens. You never how the young ones will respond.”
Central returns just a handful of players who made significant contributions last season — senior offensive lineman Tyler Rice, senior defensive lineman Keonta Goggins and junior tight end Sam Jones and senior back Caleb McClurg.
The Indians have just 11 seniors and will put a lineup on the field that consists mostly of sophomores and juniors.
Sophomore Kameron Presnell is expected to start at quarterback, but freshman Zach Hardin should take some snaps as well.
Presnell played in just one game last season, recording one tackle. The Indians top three quarterbacks — Presnell, Hardin and Aaron Slone — have never thrown a pass in a high school varsity game.
“Zach will play, unless Kameron is hot as a firecracker,” Browne said. “I’m not going to take a guy out who is hot, but I’d like to get Zach in there. He throws the ball pretty well. I want to see what he can do.”
The Black Bears used a physical running attack to get within one win of the state championship game last season. Harlan County rushed for 5,121 yards last season, an average of 365 yards on the ground a game.
Jake Middleton rushed for 2,141 yards and 29 touchdowns. The senior earned all-state honors while averaging more than 150 yards a game on the ground.
Middleton is gone, but the Black Bears have back plenty of talent returning.
In an exhibition win last week over Knox Central, six different players found the end zone for Harlan County, including sophomore back Kelin Gist, quarterback Scotty Bailey, quarterback Jarrett Ford and Joey Swanner, who scored on a 77-yard run.
“They are going to run it right at us and dare us to stop them,” Browne said. “So, we are going to have to respond and make something happen.”
Whitehead had 191 tackles last season, including 64 solo, and earned multiple all-state honors. He also had five fumble recoveries and rushed for 333 yards and seven touchdowns.