The school year is over, and while it might be summertime, there is still plenty of work to do for the Harker Heights football team.
Coming off last season’s 6-5 campaign that saw the Knights go 3-3 in District 8-6A play and reach the Class 6A postseason, the team is trying to build on that momentum.
As is the case each year, Harker Heights is returning some key players while also losing some. Two key offensive skill players the Knights will appreciate having back will be running back Jameel Hodges and multidimensional threat Jaquan Tillis.
“Tillis, we can put him out wide as a vertical threat,” Harker Heights head coach Jerry Edwards said. “We can put him in the slot and get it to him quick, or we can put him in the backfield and hand him the ball. He’s a playmaker, and obviously you want to get your playmakers the ball, so we’ll move him around and get him as many touches as we can.”
The matchup nightmare Tillis presents to opposing defenses allows Hodges to take advantage.
“If you focus in on Tillis, we’ve got Jameel,” Edwards said. “He’s one of the hardest-working kids on our football team. I know he’s going to put in the work over the summer.
“He went for over 1,000 yards last year while splitting time with (Madu Eneli). He’ll kind of be the primary back this year, and I expect a big breakout year from him. He’s very deceiving, he’s got quick feet and once he gets a clear vision of the open field, he’s the kind of guy that will take it to the house.”
Also returning in the backfield for Harker Heights will be fullback Markel Reo, and while the Knights will be replacing three of five offensive linemen, they are returning two beefy bodies in 6-foot-5-inch, 355-pound tackle Sam Pinkney and 6-foot, 350-pound guard Taunty Motu.
One area of question entering the season will be the quarterback position, but Edwards and company believe incoming sophomore Stacy Brown can be the answer.
“He’s come in and had a good spring,” Edwards said. “We feel like he’s got all the tools to be a really good quarterback. He slings the ball really well, he’s got good pocket presence and he’s a track and baseball guy, so he can tuck the ball and run if he needs to.
“Going into the spring, we were trying to replace two quarterbacks who are leaving the program. But Stacy stepped up and did good, and he’s been working hard in 7-on-7. He’s young, so he’s still trying to figure out some of the nuances of being the general, so to speak.”
Defensively, the Knights are forced to replace nine starters who were lost to graduation. The only returners will be defensive end Joseph Evans and defensive tackle Jaeshon Jackson. Jackson will be in the rotation on the defensive line in the fall, but Edwards said he will now focus on playing more offensive line.
“I’m not afraid to play kids both ways. He will get plenty of playing time this year,” Edwards said. “But we pride ourselves on defense around here, and we led the district in points allowed and yardage allowed — pretty much every category — last year. When I talk about pride on defense, it’s a team thing.
“When the offense goes out there on four- and five-minute drives, they’re playing defense for us. We are replacing nine from last season, but we replaced eight the year before and still led the district in defense. We’ve got guys that understand defense and understand the reputation we’ve built here in the last couple years.”
Overall, Edwards just wants the kids to use every day to get ready for August.
“We’ve got to defeat summer,” Edwards said. “Our kids understand our expectations and where we want to be, and they want to work hard and be successful. We feel pretty good going into the summer.”