Last season the Warren G. Harding Raiders finished with a 2-8 record, experiencing the many different challenges that football could provide at times. Some challenges included growing pains for the younger generation of athletes who were "thrown into the fire" early due to some key injuries, along with many other factors that could come with the game that we all know and love - football.
There is no excuse for the 2023 Harding Raiders this season as the talent level is there, coaching staff has years of experience, and the athletes have bought in and are trying to get rid of that nasty 2-8 record on their minds.
This season is already shaping to be different from last year through the many positive changes that head coach Steven Arnold, now in his twelfth season at the helm, has implemented. The first change is surrounding these younger athletes with a veteran coaching staff. The implementation of a few veteran coaches who have head coaching experience in the valley truly has helped bring home the teaching concepts to the athletes.
Another positive change comes from the athletes promoting the football program to other students in the school district after last season ended. With the help of some players from last year's team, and the senior team captains, the "recruitment" in the hallways of Warren G. Harding was a success. The numbers from last year to this year have doubled. Last year's numbers were around the mid-40's between varsity and junior varsity. This season the varsity and junior varsity football teams combined have close to 80 athletes.
(This does not include the freshman football team who have the most numbers on their roster in years with 38-athletes. The entire Harding football program from the ground up has been recharged and players are ready to build and improve from last year's lackluster season.)
When you have more athletes playing the game of football, it enhances the level of competition in practice and that has been evident throughout summer training camp at Mollenkopf Stadium. The starters are gaining valuable reps versus athletes who may be competing for their own future varsity jobs; and the biggest issue from a year ago with many players not getting enough rest due to being on all three units of the game (offense, defense and special teams), is not an issue any more with the addition of these new players.
One thing is for certain, you can expect a more experienced Raider group versus Canton McKinley in week one.
Raiders Offensive Report:
Quarterback Drew McKowan leads the offense with the likes of receivers Khamari Adams, Airiz Coleman Bey, Raylin Adams, Nau'Jeat Jones, and more. The running back room has been upgraded with the addition of Antonio Smith, who played last season for the State Runner-up Warren JFK Eagles. Ryan Powell is back for his senior season and is looking to improve on last year's growing pains at running back. There are several other backs that will be in the mix as well with speedster Javontae Jones, shifty and power backs Israel "Izzy" Reynolds and Brandon "BJ" Coleman Jr.
Execution has been the main focus this offseason after not sustaining drives and scoring an average of 15.2 points per game from a season ago. The Raiders offense has embraced the challenge and looked extremely sharp through two scrimmages; look for better production on offense in 2023 under junior signal caller Drew McKowan and company.
Raiders Defensive Report:
The defense from a season ago allowed a 28.4 points per game average, a statistic that new defensive coordinator Chris Kosoriek has emphasized throughout the entire offseason. 28.4 is a number that has not been left unnoticed. Through the scrimmages, practices, and 7-on-7's, the defense has looked more physical, explosive, and is much simpler.
2022's defense seemed too complicated for the young team they had and Coach K has brought a more simplistic approach that has been paying dividends. If you want to witness many turnovers this season along with athletes just flying to the football, then the 2023 Raiders defense will be one to watch.
Now that we have discussed the new look Raiders, let us delve into the Canton McKinley Bulldogs, a team with a rich tradition of excellence that has no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
Head coach Antonio Hall is in his third season at the helm and has compiled a 14-11 record in two seasons (2021: 8-5, 2022: 6-6). With an average 6-6 record last season, Hall and company expect better results in 2023.
The Bulldogs' offense all starts with senior signal caller Keaton Rode, who is coming off an impressive 2022 campaign where he threw for 1700+ yards and 19 touchdowns. If Rode can improve on his 2022 season and become a more polished dual threat athlete, the offense will mesh and be even more explosive.
Rode has a convoy of weapons around him with newcomer Xavier Harris to pair with impact player Dante McClellan, the six-foot-three wide receiver and linebacker who has many college offers that continue to grow.
The offensive line was a work in progress from a year ago but is trending in the right direction. The lead running back from last season Nino Hill rushed for over 1,000 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. Hill has aspirations to perform at an even higher level in 2023 with some new toys of his - the new revamped offensive line.
McKinley Defense & Matchup to Watch:
After losing the majority of their secondary due to graduation, the Bulldogs must look to lean on their 3-4 defensive front lineman and linebackers to lead the charge and apply consistent pressure to help the young and inexperienced secondary. The matchup to watch in this game will be the Harding wide receivers versus the McKinley secondary athletes.
If Harding can get the passing attack going, it will be a sight to watch as there were a few too many miscommunications from McKinley's secondary unit two weeks ago in their Brush scrimmage along with most recently in their August 11th scrimmage versus Saint Ignatius.
While the hope is for that to change for the better due to more practice opportunities, time is clearly running out as it is officially game week. It is extremely important that communication amongst the McKinley secondary players is in full effect on Thursday when the Bulldogs travel to Mollenkopf Stadium.
At a Glance:
Warren Harding Raiders
Head Coach: Steven Arnold
Years as HC: 12
Record Last Year: 2-8
League: All-American Conference
Defense: 3-4, Multiple
Aug. 18 - Canton McKinley
Aug. 26 - at Akron Buchtel
Sept. 1 - Farrell
Sept. 8 - at St. Vincent St. Mary
Sept. 15 - at Ursuline
Sept. 22 - Chaney
Sept. 29 - Boardman
Oct. 6 - at Cardinal Mooney
Oct. 13 - at Massillon
Oct. 20 - Austintown Fitch
At a Glance:
Head Coach: Antonio Hall
Years as HC: 3
Record Last Year: 6-6
Defense: Multiple (3 Man & 4 Man Front)
Aug. 18 - at Warren G. Harding
Aug. 25 - Avon
Sept. 1 at Dublin Coffman
Sept. 8 at Perry
Sept. 15 - Green
Sept. 22 at Hoover
Sept. 29 - Lake
Oct. 6 at Jackson
Oct. 13 - GlenOak
Oct. 21 - Massillon Washington
The Raiders will face off against Canton McKinley on Friday, August 18th 7 pm at Mollenkopf Stadium.
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