Friday, August 13, 2010

SPORTS>>Wildcats looking for more success

Leader sports editor

There isn’t much reason to change things at Harding Academy.

The only thing the Wildcats would like to do differently this year is play one more game — and finish with a healthy Seth Keese at quarterback.

Keese was injured on the third play of Harding Academy’s state semifinal loss to eventual 3A champion Fountain Lake last year.

He is fully rehabilitated and the Wildcats are favored to repeat as the 2-3A Conference champions this season.

“We’re pretty much sticking with what we did last year,” coach Roddy Mote said. “We always have a little wrinkle here or there but as far as offense and defense and a broad scheme, it’s all the same. Get in the Spread and run the ball and get in the Spread and throw it and hopefully play fast defense and tackle well and create turnovers.”

Mote said 33 players reported for the start of practice, a group that includes Keese, the all-state selection who passed for 2,480 yards and 22 touchdowns and rushed for 909 yards and 14 scores.

Keese was injured on a late hit out of bounds during last year’s playoff against Fountain Lake, Harding Academy’s season-opening opponent this year.

“He’s done a good jobrehabilitating that,” Mote said. “You don’t even know that he’s missed a step and he’s a lot more seasoned than he was a year ago.”

In the playoffs, Fountain Lake handed Harding Academy its worst and only loss of the season, 42-10. Subtract that game and the offensively prolific Wildcats outscored their opponents 455-180 in 2009.

Those numbers, a winning tradition and the return of Keese go a long way toward explaining Harding’s status as the 2-3A favorite. Harding Academy has won seven conference and four state championships, the last in 2002.

The team lost 12 seniors, including all-state receiver Tyler Gentry, who had 47 receptions for 935 yards and 11 touchdowns.

The Wildcats lost an additional 762 receiving yards when James Dillard, Jon Ford and Will Hardin also graduated, but there are still plenty of targets for Keese.

Tyler Curtis is the leading returning receiver after catching 20 passed for 325 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Ben Lecrone caught 17 passes for 195 yards and rushed 119 times for 784 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Harding Academy also returns eight defensive starters from a unit that allowed 17 points a game to lead the conference last year.

At safety, Keese led the team with 96 tackles and had two interceptions and three forced fumbles last year. Inside linebacker Jace Davis was second with 73 tackles and nose guard Jake Wells had 30 tackles, six for losses.

“Every senior class that comes through, they have high expectations,” Mote said. “It’s not any different this year. I don’t know about any unfinished business but they’re excited.”

With that kind of talent on the roster, Mote understands why certain publications would pick the Wildcats first. If they were voting, the Wildcats would probably choose themselves, he said.

“Those are our expectations,” Mote said. “That’s why you play. I don’t think it’s going to happen if you don’t expect it to happen. I know our kids will play hard and we’ll compete and obviously as a coach you hope it works out and you hope you can meet those expectations.

“But it’s not any pressure or anything like that.”