Since the beginning of their football program, Warren G. Harding High School has been nationally known for producing elite running backs. Let's just take this century... 2002 alum and then-Harding all-time leading rusher Maurice Clarett graduates and goes to Ohio State. After his departure, Richard Davis explodes on the scene and earns a scholarship to Toledo in 2004, Jon Richardson goes to Gannon University in 2005 and became their all-time leader in all-purpose yards, Dan "Boom" Herron becomes a Buckeye in 2007, Demond Hymes to Youngstown State University in 2011, LeShun Daniels starts his career as an Iowa Hawkeye in 2013, and most recently, Kay'Ron Adams began his collegiate career at Rutgers in 2019. When you have have backs like that waiting in the wings every year, there's not much of a need to change up things from year to year other than simply plugging guys in. The "baton hand off" from year to year was always strong.
Meanwhile, Harding's 2019 football season has been a year filled with individual achievements and breakthroughs. The school's single-season mark for passing yards is 1,605 by Michael Surin (1981) while fellow Panther legend Clayton Waite holds the career mark with 2,937 yards. The single-season mark for passing touchdowns is 19, which is shared by both 2004 alum Alex Engram and current Kentucky Wildcat Lynn Bowden, who also stands alone with the career-high of 28 touchdown passes. Now, a mere six games into his junior season, Elijah Taylor enters week 7 with 1,196 yards and 11 touchdowns on the year and 2,557 yards and 23 touchdowns for his career. In fact, he just topped his previous school record for passing yards in a game with 366 against Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.
Coming into this season, wide receiver Ty Artis had just one catch for 35 yards in his career. Now, the senior enters this week with 14 catches for 441 yards (31.5 YPC) and five touchdowns (six total) in 2019 alone. Meanwhile, sophomore Tyirq Ivory has 21 catches for 322 yards (15.3 YPC) and four touchdowns, classmate Dom Foster has 7 catches for 118 yards and one touchdown, and senior Brandon Arnold got off to a solid start with nine catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns before missing this past Friday's game with an injury. In total, nine different Raiders have combined to catch 92 passes and 13 touchdowns already. Usually, these are numbers that Harding might post by the end of of a football season (Harding only completed 81 passes and 12 touchdowns last year), so it's been a long time since the Raiders have had this much flexibiliity at the wide receiver position and an argument can be made that Harding has never been this aggressive passing the ball. That air attack will be needed to silence a longtime foe who is looking to build off of a huge, momentum building road victory in week 6.
When you think of the Boardman Spartan football, the word "toughness" comes to mind, especially up front. 2009 alum and former Ohio State Buckeye Corey Linsley is currently carrying the national torch for his alma mater as he's in the sixth year of his NFL career with the Green Bay Packers. Coming into his game today against the Dallas Cowboys, Linsley has started in all 74 of his career games as the center in front of future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers. 2002 Boardman alum and former Wake Forest Demon Deacon Steve Vallos enjoyed a six year NFL career as an offensive tackle (his last with the Denver Broncos in 2014) while 2003 alum John Greco represented the Toledo Rockets by starting in 77 of his 132 career NFL games as a versatile offensive lineman from 2008 to 2018. From a professional standpoint, fans from all over Northeastern Ohio certainly appreciate the work of 1982 alum Bernie Kosar, who the first nine of his 13-year NFL career with the Cleveland Browns. He was previously a member of the 1983 Miami Hurricanes squad that won the national championship while being a finalist for the Heisman Trophy in 1984.
Meanwhile, Boardman's youth in 2019, along with a very tough scdule, have them entering this week with a record of 2-4. They start several sophomores on both sides of the ball, but despite their rough start to the season, the Spartans followed their heartbreaking 28-27 overtime loss to Youngstown Cardinal Mooney with a solid 31-14 road victory over Garfield Heights, who knocked Harding out in the 2018 Region 5 playoffs in Warren by the score of 42-25. Boardman's win included a spectacular one-handed touchdown catch by sophomore Cam Thompson, which has since gone viral on social media. It goes to show you that there is a lot of young potential on Boardman's roster and the word out of Mahoning County is that they're currently showcasing a lot of young talent at the middle school level. This year could prove to be the genesis of something much greater down the line for the Spartans, but with their program being known to get up for Harding, the Raiders certainly can't afford to overlook them.
As good as Harding has looked in their big moments thus far, mistakes have plagued them in all three of their losses. Penalties, dropped passes, blown coverages, missed tackles, their inability to finish certain drives, etc. is what separates them from being undefeated and having the three losses that they have. Some (if not all) might suggest that the Massillon game seemed out of reach, but even that was the result of the Tigers simply taking advantage of the Raiders' missed opportunities until it blew up in their faces. Their mistakes are much easier to point out in the losses to Canton McKinley and St. Vincent-St. Mary because since they were so close, there's certain plays that stand out that the Raiders would love to have back. Again, the unfamiliarity of Harding's new offense has put more pressure on positions that in the past, didn't have to do nearly as much. However, improvement comes with experience, so if the Raiders show and continue to build on that to close the season, they may potentially develop the firepower to compete with anybody in Region 5 come playoff time. Of course, that's a bridge that they'll look to cross if and when the time comes. For now, they'll look to test their might against an improving Boardman squad.
LEEEEEEEET'S GOOOOOOO RAIDEEEEEEEEEEEERS!!!