Harlem is a small, tight-knit community. Its football team took a similar form this season after rezoning left the ranks thin.
One of quarterback Zach Morris' favorite moments of the season came during a homecoming parade that marched through the center of town.
Morris, the homecoming king, remembers the entire team fitting on the hay bales in the trailer that carried them. The senior is The Columbia County News-Times' Football Player of the Year for the way he led the group of Bulldogs.
He was a running back in a quarterback's role, running coach Jimmie Lewis's triple option with the knowledge of a player who had studied the system since he was a freshman. He finished with more than 1,000 "tough" yards. Lewis called him one of the toughest players he's ever coached. If you ask Morris about the "tough" label often assigned him, he isn't sure how to qualify it.
"I know how to take a hit, I guess," Morris said. "I was born with it."
For a long time, like many in Harlem, Morris' athletic endeavors involved only baseball. He played some receiver in middle school. When he arrived at the high school, Lewis told him he was going to play quarterback.
A quarterback in the option system rarely bothers with a pass, though Morris said the Bulldogs tried to do more of it this season. What Morris had to learn was how to read the defense, time the approach of a defender and decide whether to keep the ball himself, hand it off inside or pitch it.
It's a difficult offense to learn, but also tough to stop. Harlem's defensive players often had trouble in practice determining who had the ball. But once someone has it mastered -- and Morris was there -- one defensive mistake can result in a big play. And that's what the scrappy Bulldogs had to rely on this season.
With Morris under center to start the season, the Bulldogs lost a scrimmage to Aquinas and opened 0-5. But Harlem's goal was still attainable. After losing more than half the players from last year's squad, Lewis' team wanted to finish with the same number of wins.
After the slow start, the naysayers grew louder. Morris said he heard from people during the season about how Harlem wouldn't win a game.
But the senior and his teammates didn't take it to heart. They had left too much of it on the field, with most playing offense and defense for much of the 48 minutes.
"I knew we were going to have to play both ways," Morris said. "And everybody was going to be tired, tired, tired."
By the end of the season, the Bulldogs were conditioned to it. Harlem beat Cross Creek and won two more games entering the season finale at Westside. The Bulldogs trailed entering the fourth quarter, but Morris led Harlem back. The 27-13 Harlem victory gave Morris and the Bulldogs their fourth win. Same as last year.
"It was tough, but we played as a team," Morris said. "Toward the end, especially."
THE COLUMBIA COUNTY NEWS-TIMES ALL-COUNTY FOOTBALL SELECTIONS
Player of the Year: Zach Morris, Sr., Harlem
Coach of the Year: Jody Grooms, Lakeside
ATH - Mark Weidenaar, So., Lakeside
- Dynamic playmaker demanded attention from defenses. Played quarterback, receiver and returned punts. Totaled 17 touchdowns rushing and passing.
ATH - Ricky McMurtrey, Sr., Lakeside
- Tough runner averaged 7 yards per carry and was second on the team in yards from scrimmage.
QB - Zach Morris, Sr., Harlem
- Player of the year finished with more than 1,000 yards on the ground. Ran the triple option with ease.
RB - Seth Hill, Sr., Grovetown
- Senior rushed for more than 1,400 yards and averaged more than 14 yards per kick return.
RB - Jonathan Finch, Sr., Evans
- Speedster rushed for more than 1,000 yards for the Knights. Caught eight passes for 107 yards.
OL - John Hardy, Jr., Lakeside
- Solid pass blocker called many of the shots on the line and finished with 15 pancakes.
OL - Wes Ivie, Sr, Evans
- Four-year starter finished standout high school career by grading out 91 percent.
OL - Josh Dickerson, Sr., Lakeside
- All-region pick had 23 knockdowns. Excelled on both sides of ball.
OL - John Iarocci, Sr., Evans
- Big senior with quick feet graded out at 90 percent at left tackle.
OL - Trevor Jones, Sr., Greenbrier
- Captain graded out at 82 percent for the Wolfpack.
OL - Hunter Hamilton, Jr., Harlem
- Center was key piece of Bulldogs' triple option. Also punted and played DE.
WR - Tevin Nelson, Sr., Evans
- Senior caught four touchdown passes, returned a kick for a touchdown and scored on a punt return.
WR - Ben Brooks, Jr., Lakeside
- Big play receiver proved excellent fit for Panthers' wide-open offense. Averaged 21 yards per catch.
WR - Evan Wells, Sr., Augusta Christian
- Lions senior set the school's all-time receptions record.
PK - Jamie Galvin, Jr., Evans
- Young pilot was steady all year. Made 9 of 13 field goal attempts, with a long of 47.
DL - Brandon Ketchup, Sr., Evans
- Giant lineman proved difficult to block. Finished with 71 total tackles, including seven for loss.
DL - Marvon Danzie, Sr., Grovetown
- Two-way standout finished with 3.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss.
DL - Craig Garr, Jr., Evans
- Newcomer overcame a lot to become one of area's top pass rushers. Led the Knights with six sacks.
DL - Chris Hartfield, Sr., Lakeside
- Explosive defender and short-yardage back did it all for the Panthers. Seven sacks, 12 tackles for loss and four recovered fumbles.
LB - Kendal Parker, Jr., Lakeside
- Brother of Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker made a name for himself on an already stacked unit. Finished with more than 100 tackles, two forced fumbles and a case for county POY.
LB - Darnell Jackson, Sr., Evans
- Senior was the Knights' best on defense. Great speed led to 117 total tackles.
LB - Forrest Christian, Sr., Harlem
- Hard-hitting Bulldog and solid fullback never left the field, notched six sacks on the season.
LB - Alan Marionneaux, Sr., Lakeside
- Defensive leader finished with 15 tackles for loss.
DB - Khadi Tshishiku, Sr., Lakeside
- Area's best defensive back picked off six passes, forced two fumbles and scored three times on defense.
DB - Thomas Brown, So., Greenbrier
- Young safety finished with 65 tackles and four picks.
DB - Chris Tynan, Sr., Lakeside
- One of area's most unheralded performers earned the respect of coaches and teammates. Finished with five tackles for loss, a forced fumble and three interceptions.
DB - Xavier Crain, Jr., Grovetown
- Versatile player intercepted four passes, accounted for nine touchdowns on offense.
ATH - Christian Croft, Jr., Augusta Christian
QB - Troy Griffith, Sr., Evans
RB - Jamerson Turner, Jr., Evans
OL - Kevin James, Sr., Greenbrier
OL - Andy Knight, Sr., Evans
OL - Zach Piorkowski, Jr., Harlem
OL- Isaac Gray, Sr., Augusta Christian
WR - Ricky Wiebe, Jr., Greenbrier
PK - Ben Hunt, Jr., Lakeside
DL - Austin Lewis, Sr., Augusta Christian
DL - Dominique Mingo, Sr., Grovetown
LB - Cole Turner, Sr., Augusta Christian
LB - Chris McElhaney, Jr., Grovetown
LB -Taylor Camp, Jr., Harlem
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