Experience – or lack thereof – could be the key to the Harlem High School football season. After a 2-8 season in 2012 in which they lost three games by a touchdown or less, the Bulldogs put together a 7-3 campaign a year ago. The Bulldogs enter the season without most of that squad.
“We’re real young, we lost 17 seniors,” said head coach Jimmie Lewis. “We’ve got a few good kids coming back that have got some experience. We’ve got some young kids that have got to fill some big shoes.”
Another obstacle is the revamped Region 3-AA.
“It’s a murderous region now,” Lewis said. “Jefferson County’s coming in with 160 players, you’ve got Swainsboro, Metter, Dublin, East Laurens, Screven. So it’s a tough region. We’re going to have to take it one week at a time and prepare and do the best we can do.”
Lewis has experience at some key positions. Running back Austin Burt returns for his senior year after a first team All-Region and first team All-County season in which he rushed for 1,186 yards and nine TDs on 211 carries. Unity is the concept Burt pushed.
“We’re a team, I don’t focus on me,” Burt said. “It’s all about the team. Going out there as brothers, not one person. We’re all out there together.”
Lewis is concerned about blocking for Burt and senior quarterback Hunter Rippe, Senior Alex Kamara is the only experienced offensive lineman he has.
“He’ll (Kamara) be the leader on the line and when we run the football it’s going to be behind him,” Lewis said. “He’s got a big frame – about 275 pounds and he he can move people out of the way. I just hope he gets a little help.”
His first two years at Harlem were lean ones, but Kamara thought they served a purpose.
“In a way, it’s kind of a blessing that we didn’t have those good seasons because we got to see what our team was really made of,” Kamara said. “It’s also a blessing that we did have the one last year because our team worked very hard to get to where we were last year.”
The Bulldogs open the season Aug. 22 at home against Greenbrier and then they tackle Grovetown at home the next Friday.
“The impetus: money,” said Lewis of picking up the two Columbia County schools from Region 2-AAAAA. “Two good money gates and if you’re going to play somebody who’s a bigger school, you might as well make some money doing it.”