Hardly anyone has watched or coached more football games than Harrisburg head coach Steve Hopkins.
In his 43rd year of coaching overall, Hopkins has accepted a new challenge this season, taking the helm of the Bulldogs. With only six wins in the past five seasons combined, Hopkins said the program just needs to taste some success.
“When you’ve won six games in five years it’s hard to want to play football,” Hopkins said of his team, which has 30 players out this year. “We just want to get better every week and if we do that we have a chance to be competitive overall and in our league.
“We’re not going to be able to last into the fourth quarter if we don’t play more kids. That’s what happened to them last year on a couple of games they were competitive. At the end of the first half they were done. The kids were playing both ways as 14-year-olds and no subs and no chance to get a drink of water, and that’s deadly.”
The good news is Harrisburg got a lot of experience with young players last year.
Returning this season for the Bulldogs are seven starters on offense, led by junior Wyatt Robinson. Last year, the standout threw for 487 yards and rushed for another 381 yards with eight touchdowns.
“We’re still going to be young this season,” said Robinson, who is switching from quarterback to tailback. “We’re going to be going against people who are going to be bigger and stronger than us, but the weight room is a big thing and we have been putting in the work all summer. I just want to make this a whole different culture.”
If the Bulldogs are going to have success, Hopkins will rely on a number of contributors such as 6-foot-1, 180-pound junior Kevin Raines at tight end and linebacker; 5-11, 193-pound sophomore Tanner Fike at fullback and linebacker; and sophomores Brayton Stephenson and Austyn Furlong on the offensive line. Jace Carr, another talented sophomore, also returns after hauling in 403 yards and two touchdowns last year.
On defense, where the Bulldogs bring back seven starters, Robinson and Fike return after finishing with over 70 tackles a piece in 2018. Others who will have to step up defensively are Austin Bruns (44 tackles, three for loss), Raines and Travis Gardiner. Stephenson will be a key at defensive end, with Furlong and Gavin Curtis joining him on the defensive line.
Hopkins said Harrisburg will run either a 4-3 or 4-4 formation about 90% of the time.
“We are going to try and be solid against the run,” Hopkins said. “We need to stop the run and we need to run the ball. In our league, if you can’t stop the run, teams are just going to pound you 50 plays a game and then throw it five times because they can.”
As Harrisburg navigates its way through competition in the Lewis & Clark Conference, each game will present another opportunity to make forward progress.
“We believe that we can be better this year,” Hopkins said.
Aug. 30: vs. Paris
Sept. 6: @ Schuyler County
Sept. 13: vs. Salisbury
Sept. 20: @ Westran
Sept. 27: @ Knox County
Oct. 4: vs. Missouri Military Academy
Oct. 11: @ Fayette
Oct. 18: vs. Scotland County
Oct. 25: vs. Marceline