Harlem's athletic program opened up a new weight-lifting facility last summer with state-of-the-art equipment, air conditioning and more space than most of the athletes knew what to do with.
Little did athletic director and football coach Jimmie Lewis know, it would also open up a world of possibilities for the football team.
"Things have really picked up," Lewis said. "You could tell the kids took pride in the new facility they had."
They did more than just take pride in the weight room. They also used it. Weight-training coach Adam Fulford supervised the football team as they followed the Bigger, Faster, Stronger lifting program. The results surprised even him.
"You could really tell when we really started doing some things that we haven't done here before," Fulford said. "It was back in April when Matt Pitchford got 300 on the bench .We haven't had anybody at Harlem get 300 on the bench in I can't remember when. That's when things really started taking off."
The lifting continued into the summer, and so did the record breaking.
Fulford watched as senior nose guard A.J. Ortiz broke another school record with a parallel squat of 545 pounds in June.
"I'm talking about a true parallel squat. He was wearing the beeper," Fulford said. "Then Pitchford hit 525 parallel squat. They just didn't quit. We've now got six kids that can bench over 300."
As football season nears, Lewis said the new weight room has played a valuable and necessary role in preparing his players for one of the toughest schedules in recent memory. While the Bulldogs beefed up in the offseason, so did Region 3N-AAA.
Harlem's newly aligned region lost Hephzibah and Richmond Academy. Both schools went 2-8 in 2005. In their place came Washington County - a football powerhouse with a record of 53-13 over the past five years.
With Washington County and rival Thomson as region opponents, Lewis said taking one of the two available state playoff spots won't be an easy task.
"We've got to beat Thomson and Washington County, and that's a tall order," he said. "Thomson is a must-win. Then you've got to win the rest of your games. It doesn't matter if you beat Thomson and Washington County if you lose to Butler or Cross Creek."
Despite the competition, the Bulldogs continue their preseason preparations. Harlem will return much of last season's squad, including starting quarterback Brendan Gray and starting linebacker Maurice Dorsey. Both seniors have already received NCAA Division 1 attention.
"We had a good record last year, and we didn't really lose anybody," Gray said. "Now we have the weight room that's boosted our confidence. We've got to be one of the strongest teams in the CSRA."
Harlem will start the season on the road at Evans on Sept. 1 and at Lincoln County the following week before returning to the Junkyard for their home opener on Sept. 15 against Aquinas.
Aug. 19 - Win at Evans, 13-6
Aug. 26 -Loss vs. Hancock Central, 30-27
Sept. 2 - Loss vs. Jefferson County, 41-12
Sept. 9 - Win at Richmond Hill, 18-0
Sept. 16 - Win at Richmond Academy, 49-18
Sept. 23 - Loss vs. Thomson, 46-7
Sept. 30 - Win at Glenn Hills, 14-7
Oct. 7 - Win vs. Butler, 26-6
Oct. 14 - Loss at Cross Creek, 34-14
Oct. 28 - Win vs. Hephzibah, 42-7
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