Week 1 Game Preview- Warren G. Harding @ Canton McKinley
After 126 football seasons, Warren G. Harding High School enters the 2019 campaign with an all-time record of 695-439-49. Historically, they rank fourth in Ohio for all-time wins. Of course, in high school sports, the rosters are guaranteed to change every year, so the fact that Harding has been able to maintain a high standard of excellence for well over a century speaks to the way each generation in Warren has motivated the next. The ability to sustain that level of consistency is what separates a successful "program" from a successful "team," which is a barrier that Harding crossed years ago.
Since head coach Steve Arnold took over the football program in 2012, the Raiders have a record of 44-31. During that time, he's coached players the likes of LeShun Daniels Jr. (Iowa; former NFL player), James Daniels (Iowa; current Chicago Bear), Hjalte Froholdt (Arkansas; current New England Patriot), Lynn Bowden (Kentucky; probable first-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft), etc. In other words, Arnold's success has been predicated on the continued development of his players, which is a tribute to the work of him and his coaching staffs at every level. This season, Harding will be without the services of a strong 2019 graduation class that was headlined by current Rutgers Scarlet Knight Kay'Ron Adams, who finished his high school career as Harding's fourth all-time leading rusher with 3,544 yards on the ground.
One key aspect that Adams brought to the table that the Raiders won't lack is speed. They have plenty of it at the skill positions, which makes returning starting quarterback Elijah Taylor very happy. Last year, he was 118 of 198 for 1,361 yards and 13 touchdowns, all of which are Harding records for a sophomore, and just 6 interceptions. He'll be accompanied in the offensive backfield by junior tailback Elizah Smith (52 carries for 284 yards & 5 touchdowns in 2018) while fellow classmate Emari Burgess will look to add to his 145 rushing yards and score on 28 carries from last season. Taylor has a deep collection of weapons at the wide receiver position in seniors Ty Artis, Brandon Arnold, Jordan Brantley, and Jamel Anderson, juniors Deaveion Burgess, Mar'kwaun Brown, and Tye Pennington, and big-potential sophomores Tyirq Ivory and Dom Foster.
In addition to providing depth at quarterback, newcomer Marcus Brown will join the aformentioned receivers as options in the return game on special teams. Senior Calvin Stuffer returns after averaging 34.0 yards on 29 punts while Noah Murry will provide his strong leg for the kicking, which was on display during the last scrimmage against Euclid when he nailed a 40-yard field goal. Defensively, the Raiders' front seven will be led by senior Jarriel White Jr. and junior Jabari Felton on the ends while returning lettermen Emarion "Tank" Perkins and Jasier Graham bring back their key experience at the linebacker position. Marcus Brown will also join Artis, Anderson, Brantley, Ivory, and Mar'Kwaun Brown as options at cornerback while Foster is expected see a lot of time at strong safety.
Being a storied football program in Ohio is one thing, but on a national level, there's very few high schools in the country that epitomizes success in all sports than Canton McKinley. In fact, they're the only high school in the country that ranks inside the national top ten for all-time wins in both football and boys basketball. To date, ten of the Bulldogs' 34 state titles have come in football, with their ones in the playoff era (1972-present) coming in 1981, 1997 (USA Today national champion), and 1998 while the 30 alumni that they've sent to the NFL ranks seventh all-time nationally. That collection of talent is headlined by the late Marion Motley, who became the second African American ever inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968.
This season will be the first at McKinley for new head coach Marcus Wattley, who brings 15 years worth of coaching experience to the Bulldogs. Last year, he served as the defensive ends coach at the University of Akron. That could signal an even stronger season for senior D.J. Owens, a 6'0, 230 pound defensive end who was a Northeast Inland District Honorable Mention selection in 2018. The pressure that he'll apply off the edge this year should make life even sweeter for senior Chamber Stokes-Williams, a First Team All-Northeast Inland District selection from last year, and junior Brian Pinkney, a safety who already holds an offer from Akron.
Offensively, McKinley will be paced by the production of Lameir Garrett, who was a First Team All-Division 1 selection at tailback in 2018. While the loss of 2019 McKinley alum and current West Point quarterback Alijah Curtis won't be easy to replace, he'll have the luxury of throwing to another First Team All-Northeast Inland District selection in Jalen Ross, who currently holds offers from Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green, Miami (OH), Toledo, Western Michigan, and Youngstown State. Terrell Dillworth and recent incoming transfer Tyson Durant will provide other solid options for the Bulldogs. On top of that, they have a huge 6'5, 245 pound weapon in senior tight end Jasper Robinson, who is already committed to Kent State.
While both Harding and McKinley both lost key contributors from last year, both have a strong history of reloading and moving forward. There's several guys from both teams who are fully capable of having breakout years and making even bigger names for themselves. That's the "battle" that Harding needs to win if they want to leave Canton with a win on Friday. It will take a total team effort, so whoever has the most guys step up the most will earn a huge season-opening victory.
LEEEEEEEEEEEEET'S GOOOOOOOOOOOO RAIDEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERS!!!