The Richmond Register


August 23, 2013

H.S. FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Standout Harris returns to lead talented, experienced Eagles

RICHMOND — Madison Southern is coming off a 7-5 season, which included a 37-36 victory over Perry County Central in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.

While they lost six seniors to graduation, the Eagles have a lot of experience returning on both sides of the ball, including possibly the best player in the state — junior tailback Damien Harris.

Harris, who recently committed to the University of Michigan, put up spectacular numbers in 2012.

In 10 games, the Eagles’ All-State back carried the ball 160 times for 1,911 net yards — and average of 191 yards per game — and scored 37 rushing touchdowns. He also caught five passes for another 176 yards and three touchdowns.

But, Harris will be the first one to tell you, without the aid of his teammates, those accomplishments wouldn’t have happened, and this season he still has plenty of experienced help surrounding him.

Southern returns six senior starters — Casey Dionne, Buddy Harrison Tyler Hagen, Drew Wright, Derek Howard and Andrew Devere, but have a slew of players who saw significant playing time and helped the team win a playoff game for the first time since 2005.

Three of the Eagles’ best athletes — seniors Derek Howard and Austin Sipple and sophomore Andrew Miller — anchor a very deep and talented offensive line that will be a big factor in the success of Harris and the Eagles’ offense.

“Our offensive line is pretty good. It is the best our line has ever been. We feel like we have eight or nine guys who can play on the O-line right now and we’ve never had that depth there before,” Southern coach Jon Clark said. “We lost some great players in Spencer Stone and Matt Howard, but Austin (Sipple) is a two-year starter at center and Derek (Howard) is doing a great job on the O-line and Andrew (Miller) is pretty darn good. So we feel very comfortable where we are up front.”

While Harris, deservedly so, gets most of the attention, the Eagles have a couple of other talented players in the backfield as well, with Dionne and Hagen lining up in the T-formation alongside Harris. The Eagles have another offensive weapon in junior Devante Linville, who will be starting at quarterback.

“We feel like we have some depth in the T right now with Casey and Tyler at tailback. Both those two, we feel like are probably starting tailbacks at a lot of other high schools right now,” Clark said. “Devante has decent speed and he’s a playmaker. He makes decisions well, he has a strong arm and will make plays for us. He doesn’t try to do anything we don’t ask him to do and that has really been his strong point.”

The two question marks on offense for the Eagles, Clark said, are at receiver and fullback where there is some talent, but not a lot of experience.

Seniors Alex Layne, Antonio Thrash, Austin Beetlestone and Devin Detwieler are all expected to contribute at receiver.

For now, the fullback spot will be manned by committee, until someone steps up and claims the starting spot full-time.

The Eagles return a lot of experience and depth on defense as well, beginning with Derek Howard, who will anchor the defensive line at tackle and Dionne, who will lead the secondary. Others expected to make the Southern defense a formidable unit include, juniors Drew Wright, Josh Sizemore and Buddy Harrison, and sophomores John Lamb, Aaron Sipple, and Tristan Girod.

Clark said the defense is the deepest unit he has had since arriving at Southern.

“We rotate 20-21 players through our defense and we’ve never had that depth before,” Clark said. “And these are legit kids who can play. Our sophomores spent a lot of time in the weight room the last two year and they are physically able to help us more than we ever expected at this point, so we feel good about our defensive unit.”

John Land will punt for the Eagles, while Garrison Watts returns as place kicker on field goals and kickoffs.

One area that the Eagles coaching staff has been paying special attention to this fall is special teams, a unit that last season was inconsistent at times, costing Southern in some big games.

The Eagles used live special teams in its scrimmage game against Shelby County last week and Clark said the extra emphasis is paying off.

“Last year we were a disaster on special teams so this year we have worked hard on them,” Clark said. “We used live special teams in the scrimmage and that gave us a chance to fix some things, and we have had practices just for special team. I think we are light years away from where we were on special teams over last year.”

The Eagles open the season on the road on Friday at 7 p.m. at Rockcastle County.

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