Updated: Aug 16, 2021
When Warren G. Harding kicks off their 2021 high school football season against Medina this Friday, it will officially make current head coach Steve Arnold the second longest tenured coach in the school's history as he enters his tenth season at the helm. The late Pierre Hill accumulated an overall record of 80-34-7 in twelve seasons from 1930 to 1941 as Harding's coach. After a successful 10-year run as the head of the Raiders' basketball program, Arnold made the head coaching switch to the gridiron prior to the 2012 season. While some suggested he wasn't qualified for the job, he was actually on Harding's football staff in the 90's under the late Phil Annarella thru the days of former Raiders coach Gary Barber (1997-99). To date, Arnold has guided Harding to an overall record of 58-39. Six of his nine seasons have resulted in trips to the postseason, where he owns a record of 6-6.
Every school loses key players to graduation every year. In Harding's case, that's a huge understatement. For starters, record-setting quarterback Elijah Taylor has taken his talents to Wayne State. The former Raider signal caller obliterated school records in career completions (345), passing attempts (639) and touchdowns (41) while also owning the passing yardage marks for a game (366 vs. Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in 2019), season (1,763 in 2019), and career (4,400 from 2018-2020). Others departing to the college ranks include Jabari Felton (Central State), Chester Adams (Lake Erie College), Mar'Kwuan Brown (Laney College), and Emarion Perkins, the 2020 Trumbull County Defensive Player of the Year who will join Taylor at Wayne State.
This season, one of the guys that Harding will showcase under center is senior Dom Foster, who actually led the Raiders in receiving yards (458) and touchdown catches (six) last season . The lone pass attempt of his career was a 50-yard touchdown to classmate Tyirq Ivory, who is back with the team after a year away from football, against Cleveland Rhodes in 2019. Foster's supreme work ethic off the field, which included straight A's for the entire 2020-21 school year, impressed many college coaches. That led to a very productive summer as he now hold scholarship offers from the University of Akron, Boston College, Buffalo, Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, Howard, Kent State, Miami (OH), Syracuse, Toledo, Virginia, Wake Forest, and Youngstown State. He is expected to make a final decision this week. Versatile junior Dalys Jett, who showed some great signs over in the Raiders' two scrimmages, is also expected to rotate at quarterback in sets that will allow Foster to line up at wide out.
The other main options at receiver include Ivory (23 catches for 340 yards & 4 touchdowns for his career), Konyae Redd (6 catches for 186 yards & 2 touchdowns in 2020), Curt Dorsey (8 catches for 106 & 1 touchdown in 2020), Johnny Taylor, and Saad Dukes. Senior Brysen Powell is also a huge threat out of the backfield for the Raiders as he totaled 759 rushing yards & 4 touchdowns on 115 carries last season while Delmar McMillan had 210 yards & one score on 39 carries in 2020.
Defensively, it certainly won't be easy to replace the production of Perkins, Felton, and Adams. However, the Raiders have a dynamic playmaker returning at defensive end in senior Kincaid Tyson. His defensive efforts last season included a team-high 8 sacks. The signature performance of his junior year came in the fourth round of the 2020 playoffs against Austintown Fitch, who had previously handed Harding a 25-21 loss in week 4. Tyson was one of several Raiders who made sure that history wouldn't repeat itself five weeks later as he put on a dominating performance off the edge with several stops in the Falcons' offensive backfield. As a result, Harding left Austintown with a huge 24-10 victory, which was Fitch's first and only loss of the 2020 season.
Look for a combination of Powell, Ivory, Foster, Trevon Allen, Devin Boss, and Jett to join forces in the Raiders' defensive backfield. On special teams, you can expect big things from sophomore Jake Daugherty. Last year on the varsity level, he handled the majority of the kicking duties as a freshman in connecting on 31-of-33 extra points and 8-of-10 field goals.
Over the years, Harding has opened up with some huge names in week 1. Canton McKinley, Cleveland Benedictine, then-reigning Division I state runner-up Cincinnati Moeller way back in 1998, etc. Even back in 2004, the Raiders started out with a very underrated Washington (D.C.) Dunbar squad that went on to produce several NCAA and even a few NFL players and Austintown Fitch isn't exactly at the bottom of the barrel either. Now, the casual high school football fan may think that "Medina" lacks the name recognition of most of the aforementioned schools. From a traditional standpoint, that is in fact the case, but with the trend that the Bees are currently on, they're ready to swarm their way to a successful 2021 season.
All five of their playoff appearances have come since 2006 (2006, 2010, 2016, 2019, 2020), but none of them compare to the run that they went on last season. After finishing the regular season with a record of 3-3, they began the playoffs by knocking off Strongsville, Lakewood St. Edward, and Cleveland St. Ignatius, the latter two on the road, before eventually falling to Mentor in the Region I championship game.
Now, Medina is back and ready to make noise. They are led by quarterback Drew Allar, who completed 209 of his 397 passes for 2,857 yards, 26 touchdowns, and nine interceptions last season. In the Bees' 33-26 triumph over St. Ignatius, Allar stung the Wildcats with 488 passing yards, four touchdowns with no interceptions on 25-of-45 passing. After that performance, legendary St. Ignatius coach Chuck Kyle told Cleveland.com reporter Matt Goul, "We’ve seen a lot of good ones and colleges better look at this guy.” That was certainly the case as on March 8, 2021, the 6-foot-5, 228-pound blue chip recruit verbally committed to Penn State over the likes of Notre Dame, Michigan, Texas A&M, Iowa, Pitt, Washington, etc.
In their pass happy offense, fourteen different Bees hauled in at least one catch in 2020. Half of them are back, which includes Drew Hensley (29 catches for 414 yards & 4 touchdowns), Jajuan Jackson (27 catches for 489 yards & 3 TDs), Brennen Schramm (28 catches for 347 yards), Michael Rodak (25 catches for 335 yards & 4 TDs), Matt Rudolph (31 catches for 318 yards & 1 TD), Reid Kelps (1 catch for 45 yards & 1 TD), and Jaylen Payne (1 catch for 15 yards).
Defensively, Medina returns their leading tackler from last season in linebacker Matt Hamula. Not only did his efforts (78 tackles, 9 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, and 1 interception) earn him 1st Team honors within the Greater Cleveland Conference and Northeast Inland District, he was also an Honorable Mention All-State selection in Division I as well. Matt Spatny built on his impressive resume from last season (53 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and 2 sacks) with solid performances at numerous camps that saw him land offers from Robert Morris, Lafayette, Notre Dame College, Findlay, Ashland, and Lake Erie College.
Senior Andrew Delac (46 tackles, 8 TFLs, 3 sacks, and 1 forced fumble in 2020) returns as a force off the edge while fellow defensive lineman Nicholas Manley (28 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 2 sacks, and 1 fumble recovery in 2020) is a 6-foot-4, 270-pound ox who is currently entertaining offers from Penn, Lake Erie, and Saint Anselm College. Another Bee who will be found doing a lot of dirty work in the trenches on both sides of the ball is Ryan Farrell, who currently owns an offer from Wheeling University. Medina's cornerback unit will be headlined by Jackson (offers from Findlay & Lake Erie college) and Keon Johnson (offers from Lawrence Tech University, Baldwin Wallace, Tiffin, and Capital) while Rodak and Schramm could also see time in the secondary.
With Medina having one of the most sought after football recruits in the entire country, their expectations are higher than they've ever been. They'll throw everything they have at Harding, who has lofty goals of their own this season. This is one of the "must-see" match-ups in the entire state. With the football tradition in Warren, the city wouldn't have it any other way.
LEEEEEEEEEEET'S GOOOOOOOOOO RAIDEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERS!!!