By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
There are many ways to measure the success of a high school football program.
Victories and playoffs wins are, of course, the most obvious.
Just as important though is the number student-athletes that go on to play the sport at the next level.
When Jon Clark took over the football program at Madison Southern three years ago, the school had just two players from that year's senior class who received college scholarships offers.
On Wednesday, three standout Southern student-athletes signed national letters of intent — Derek Howard (Campbellsville), Tyler Hagan (University of the Cumberlands) and Buddy Harrison (Union College).
So, far this year, six Southern seniors have signed and another — Austin Sipple — is expected to make his college choice official in the very near future.
“(We’ve) come a long way in a short amount of time,” Clark said. “Their work ethic has been a huge part of it. These kids (Howard, Harrison and Hagan) have done everything we’ve asked and beyond. Their leadership ability have brought the rest of the program along with them.”
The entire program has come a long way in the past few years.
Led by a dedicated senior class, the Eagles have put together an amazing turnaround. Howard, Harrison and Hagan were all freshman on the 2010 team that won just one game.
Last season, Southern won a school-record tying 10 games and advanced to the region championship game for just the second time ever.
“It’s unbelievable really,” Hagan said. “I never expected us to be where we are today. It’s amazing to see our accomplishments.”
Hagan, Howard and Harrison have played a big part in Southern’s run of record-breaking success.
Hagan was a four-year starter at Southern and certainly left the mark on the program. He will graduate with a long list of school records, including: Career tackles (485), career sacks (14.5), tackles in a game (33), tackles in a season (166) and sacks in a game (three).
Hagan was a standout linebacker, but this year also made an impact on offense. He had 76 yards rushing and two touchdowns against Whitley County.
“Where the ball was, Tyler was,” Clark said. “The unique thing about that is he’s not a young man who watches a lot of football on his own. It just comes natural to him. It’s pretty impressive how he plays instinctively on reaction to the game.”
Hagan had offers from every NAIA school in the state. The 5-foot-10, 195-pound senior will join a program that played in the NAIA National Championship Game last year.
“I loved it there,” Hagan said of the University of the Cumberlands. “The facilities were awesome. It’s just a good program. Coach Clark just really inspired me to go there because I fit in their offense.”
Harrison was a three-year starter for Southern and was one of the team’s most versatile players.
This past season he was limited to just nine games because of a knee injury, but he still made an impact on both sides of the ball. He had five receptions in a win over Whitley County and finished the season with 28 tackles.
“He was a guy who could play anywhere on the field when we needed him to,” Clark said of Harrison. “We felt great about how he was progressing and thought he would be an explosive playmaker. Buddy’s stats are going to pop out to because he only played a limited amount this season.”
Harrison finished his career at Southern with 275 yards rushing and three touchdowns along 97 tackles and five interceptions.
In 2012 against North Laurel, he had a school-record three interceptions.
Harrison (5-foot-8, 160-pound) was also considering Campbellsville, but signed with Union College as a free safety,
“I felt like Union was the right place for me,” Harrison said. “It’s a small school. It reminded me a lot of Southern. They are in a rebuilding process, just like we were. So, I want to help contribute to that as much as a I can.”
Howard was a four-year starter at Southern. For the first three seasons he played almost exclusively on the defensive line, but this past year he also jumped into the lineup at offensive guard.
Despite battling through a shoulder injury late in the season, the senior was a force on both sides of the ball, drawing double teams on almost every play.
“This young man is the one of the strongest individuals to ever come through this building,” Clark said of Howard.
Howard played three sports at Southern — football, wrestling and track — and he wanted the opportunity to be a multi-sport athlete in college. He considered the University of the Cumberlands, but Campbellsville offered him the chance to play football and track.
The senior qualified for the state meet in the discus last year.
“I joined the track team when I was in middle school and I fell in love with it,” Howard said. “So, it was really big for me (to be able to do both).”
Howard finished his career at Southern with 140 total tackles, 10.5 sacks and eight fumble recoveries.
Last month, Casey Dionne (Army), Devante Linville (Campbellsville) and Clayton O’Neal (Georgetown College) all signed to play football in college.
In the past three years, 15 Southern football players have signed college scholarships.
Editor's note: The original version of this story contained a section that was somewhat confusing. The Madison Southern football program has produced dozens of student-athletes who have received college football scholarships in the past two decades - including several Division I players, such as Luke Stocker (Tennessee) and Rico Brown (Western Kentucky).
The story did not mean to state that the program had produced only two college football athletes prior to 2012. It meant to state that Southern had only two student-athletes from the 2012 Senior Class receive college scholarships.
The Regiser appologizes for the confusing wording of the story.