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New coach, new approach: A new look Highlander team for 2022

Listen: Scott High Head Coach Chris Harris

HUNTSVILLE  |  A new era begins at Scott High School on Aug. 26. When the Highlanders host Coalfield to open the 2022 season, it will be with a brand-new head coach and a brand-new coaching staff. Chris Harris, who was offensive coordinator at Clay County a year ago, is making his debut as a head coach. His staff includes former Scott players like Charles Golden as defensive coordinator and former collegiate quarterback Billy Hall, along with basketball coach Jake Wright.

Harris has coached at a number of different schools and in different roles. He moved from the college game to the high school game two years ago as offensive coordinator at Smith County, and then at Clay County last year. Now he’s set to make his debut as a head coach, and he does so by inheriting a team that has not won a game on the field since 2020, and has fallen on hard times a bit. He’s an offensive-minded head coach, one who will call his own plays, and he said he will bring the same philosophies he has used in the past with him to Scott High.

Under Harris, Clay County featured a prolific offense a year ago, scoring points in bunches. Harris says a misconception is that his offense is pass-first. Clay County was actually run-first last year, but picked up yardage in chunks on a relatively small number of throws after lulling teams to sleep with the run.

“Our big plays happened through the air (last year),” he said. “We ran the ball 65% of the time, but we would throw for 200 yards a game on like eight of 10 passing. People would play us to stop the run, and then we would throw the ball over their head.”

Scott High’s senior football players and cheerleaders.

One thing that will change is that Clay County’s offense was fast-paced, whereas Harris will attempt to slow the ball down for at least this season, since his team is much younger. The goal will be to shorten the game.

“We’ll line up in the spread, but we run the ball,” Harris said. “I don’t wanna see it’s deceptive, but people will say, ‘Oh they’re going to pass the ball all the time,’ but we won’t. But by the same token, if people take away the run, we’re going to throw it to win. Hopefully the kids will be able to execute and make us all look good.”

For Harris’s run-first approach, senior Will Young could wind up being a big factor. He missed most of his junior year with a knee injury, but his coach said he’s running like he’s got a point to prove.

“He’s a hard-working kid and he’s fun to be around,” Harris said.

Backing up Young will be a freshman Michael Bond. There will be a couple of others, too, but Harris is reluctant to name them, saying “We’re saving them for a rainy day.”

As for having to throw a freshman into the mix in Class 4A football, Harris bristles when asked if it’s a scary proposition.

“I don’t coach scared,” he said. “If they’re good enough to play, they’re gonna play.”

At quarterback, senior and junior Luke Bowling are battling. Strunk was the starter last year, until he suffered a knee injury. He missed spring practice and most of summer workouts. But he’s cleared and is “gaining confidence every day,” according to Harris. Bowling took his place after the injury last year.

“Every day is a competition,” Harris said of his quarterbacks. “I tell the kids, you don’t have a contract here. You may start one day and the next day you’re not starting.” 

Harris said he won’t hesitate to play dual quarterbacks, if the situation dictates it.

“If they’re both good enough and deserving, absolutely,” he said.

As for the players who the quarterbacks will be throwing to, Harris plans to use a four-wide look, and it starts with junior Rylin Griffin. But while Griffin is the top returning playmaker at the wideout position, Harris said there are several others who are right on his heels. He names players like Jaden Mays, Lucas Newport, Dalton Spradlin and Hugo Henry.

“They’re right there,” Harris said. “They’re learning how we want to block, how we want the routes ran, and things like that. They’re buying into what we’re doing, and they’re kids that are going to be hard to keep off the field.”

Harris said he is “absolutely” comfortable throwing the football. 

Up front, the Highlanders have experience on the offensive line with guys like Gavin Terry, Landon Crabtree, Jace Cloyd, Deshaun Fair, Steve Abney, Clayton Carroll and Adrian Stanley. They will all see playing time, and Harris said there are three freshmen who will be “hard to keep off the field.”

Harris is a former offensive lineman himself, which means he tends to be tougher on his linemen than players at other positions.

“I was that kid, too,” he said.

During his introductory press conference in March, Harris said he had noticed some technique issues with the linemen when Clay County played Scott High last season. He said he has worked on those issues during the off-season. 

“We’re working on just changing their stance, their alignment, helping them to be able to bend, and just recognizing things on defense,” he said. “Because where the defense lines up changes things. You have to adjust your blocking assignments just a little bit.”

On defense, the Highlanders will be featuring a 3-4 scheme. That’s mostly to keep the guys up front fresher so they can play “better, longer,” Harris said.

Playing up front will be Zane Lowe, Cloyd, Colton Newport, Elijah Fletcher and Gus King. At linebacker will be Alton Whaley, Carroll, Will Russ and Tommy Fitzgerald. The secondary will include Mays, Griffin, Nolan Cotton and Landon Griffith. Henry will also see the field, as will Spradlin. 

“We’ve got some flexibility with our kids,” Harris said.

The Highlanders begin and end each practice with special teams drills, and they spend Thursday reviewing everything about special teams. Harris said he expects to be able to have some success with special teams.

One of Harris’s biggest challenges is going to be building the program. Towards the end of the 2021 season, the Highlanders’ numbers had dropped into the 20s. This year, there are 45 players taking part in fall camp. And there’s room for more. Harris said that one day last week, his coaches talked to four guys who wanted to play. If they can successfully complete a physical, he said, they’re welcome to join the team. Eventually, he would like to have as many as 70 players on the roster.

While 70 players would be the largest roster Scott High has ever fielded, Harris doesn’t think it’s an unrealistic goal.

“If I am for 70 and I get 65, I’ll be happy with that,” he said. “Why not set the bar high? We’re hard on the kids, but we treat them right. We praise them, we give them gear, we take care of them, we make them feel appreciated. If kids feel appreciated, they’re going to tell their friends, ‘Hey, this ain’t as bad as it used to be. We’re having a good time.’”

Harris said his team is having fun at practice. “We laugh once a day,” he said.

Harris would also like to change some things from a strength-and-conditioning standpoint.

“I’d like to be able to lift the kids year-round,” he said. “We have a fourth period lifting class in the spring, but I’d like to see that year-round, and not just in football but in every sport. It would help the entire sports program be bigger, faster, stronger. It’s going to be a process; it’s not going to be an overnight fix.”

Harris said the support from the community has been “tremendous” since he arrived on campus.

“We haven’t played a game yet, but the community is helping us out,” he said, adding that the community was ready for a winning football program.

“You could just sense it when I had my introductory press conference, just being around the community, the teachers at school … they want a winning program.”

The Highlanders have a brutal schedule ahead of them, but Harris said he’s ready to embrace the challenge.

“Bring them on,” he said. “We’re going to scheme them and we’ll play anybody.”

Harris said he let his players set the goals for the season, saying that would mean more to them. Their goals were to be a team, and make the playoffs. 

“They said that everything else will take care of itself, if we can accomplish those two things,” he said.

Making the playoffs is a goal that can only be accomplished with wins as the season progressed. But, Harris said, his team has already taken strides towards becoming a team. Much of that is accomplished by letting the players take ownership, and by letting the coaching staff add input. 

As his team has prepared for the season, Harris has enjoyed what he has seen from his players.

“The kids work hard,” Harris said. “We practice hard — probably more-so than they’ve been used to. Nobody’s quit, nobody complains. They want more. That’s impressive to me, because I don’t have to worry about motivating them and making sure they’re ready to practice. When we have meetings, we come into the film room here, and they’re ready to go. They’re sitting down in their seats and ready. As a coach, it’s like, ‘Okay, I don’t have to coach that. We can just coach football now.’”

Harris is also proud of how respectful his team has been during the early days of school and during the preseason media day.

“That’s on the kids,” he said. “It’s just refreshing because the kids want more.”

As the season’s first game nears, Harris said his request to the community is to show up and “give us a try.”

“We’re going to be competitive, we’re going to play hard, and all I ask from the kids is to be in a position to win the game in the fourth quarter,” he said. “At that point it’s on the coaches to make the right calls. Keep competing every play, don’t watch the scoreboard, don’t watch the clock, just play each play and we’ll worry about it when it’s over.”

The IH Sports Network is the sports voice of the northern Cumberland Plateau, providing thorough coverage of the Oneida Indians and the Scott Highlanders.

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