Harker Heights’ Jameel Hodges (20) carries against Austin Vandegrift  on Thursday at Leo Buckley Stadium.

Words a football coach does not want to hear in the summer:

“Sorry, Coach, THIS kid couldn’t make it today because of THAT.”

“Sorry, Coach, THAT kid couldn’t make it to summer workouts today because of THIS.”

“Coach, I hate to pass on the rotten news: THIS kid can’t make the workout today because of THAT.”

“Uh, Coach, don’t shoot the messenger: THAT kid told me to say you won’t be seeing him at the 7-on-7 game because of THIS …”

These are words fourth-year Harker Heights head coach Jerry Edwards did NOT hear this summer.

“This summer, we had the highest participation of our players in our summer fitness program we’ve ever had since I’ve been here,” Edwards said. “We had over a dozen kids at every single one of our 24 workouts. We had another dozen that made it to 20 or more. If they weren’t on vacation, they were here working.”

And now, heading into Week 5 of the 2016 season, the Knights are 3-1 after a thrilling 20-19 home victory over Austin Vandegrift on Thursday.

The Harker Heights Knights are now a fierce, formidable football squad.

“No doubt about it, the large participation we had in summer workouts and 7-on-7 is a huge part of the success we’ve had so far this season,” Edwards said. “This is a special group of kids we have. They’ve bought into the cultural change we’ve been trying to build ever since my coaches and myself have gotten here.

“You can’t sit on the couch in the summer. These kids understand that. I read something in the paper this summer that really caught my attention.”

It was a quote from Killeen head coach Neil Searcy.

“Coach Searcy said a football team must ‘Defeat summer’ — and he is exactly right,” Edwards said. “And I told my kids, ‘Coach Searcy is right,’ they must defeat summer. I told our kids, ‘Do that!’”

And they did.

This summer, the Knights qualified for the State 7-on-7 Tournament for the first time in school history.

While summer 7-on-7 wins don’t necessarily equate to autumn victories, it’s still better to win than lose.

“And it was interesting what I watched with our kids in 7-on-7 this summer,” Edwards said. “They were finding ways to win. They expected to win. They were confident they could win. And when they were working out in the summer, they had a purpose to everything — winning football games.

“Now, when we get in a tight game like we had on Thursday night, our kids are finding a way to come out on top. In the past, we used to find a way not to come out on top.”

But Edwards hasn’t ordered any ticker-tape parades.

“We’re 3-1 but it doesn’t matter at all starting next week,” he said. “We haven’t accomplished what we want to yet.”

Heights begins District 8-6A play Friday at Belton then hosts Waco Midway the following week.

“Our district is so tough,” Edwards said. “We start off with Belton and their quarterback (Peyton Mansell) is going to Iowa. Midway’s quarterback (Tanner Mordecai) will be able to choose wherever he wants to go.

“And Ellison also has a great quarterback (Carl Robinson III). And then Copperas Cove is always such a tough football team; from what I understand, Heights has never beaten Cove.

“And I could go on: Every single team in this district is tough. There is not one easy game in this district.”

Edwards said senior leadership is a huge part of the early season success of the Knights.

Without dedicated seniors pushing the younger players, showing the way during the spring and summer — and showing up — winning in-season games can be rather difficult.

“For us, as far as leadership, you must start with Madu Eneli — one of the hardest-working kids you’ll ever see," Edwards said. "Khalil Corbett-Canada is an absolute grinder. C.J. Parker has stepped up big for us and Jared Kaltenbaugh is a captain and two-year starter for us.”

Eneli is a running back/linebacker, Corbett-Canada is an offensive lineman, Kaltenbaugh a linebacker and Parker plays tight end/defensive lineman.

“And I really wish that I could mention every single senior we have this year because it’s a total team effort,” Edwards said. “Even the seniors that aren’t playing as much are huge to us because they do such a great job during the week in practices and are making sure this entire football team is prepared — those guys are just as vital as the starters.”

Edwards and his players are clearly having fun. Hey, winning makes things more fun, no doubt about that.

“Our kids are now seeing that hard work in the spring and summer pay off,” Edwards said. “These seniors of ours are such a special group and they are on a mission. They lead.

“And this entire football team is a very hard-working, close-knit group who make no excuses, are gonna find a way to win and have a never-give-up attitude.”

And THAT is why THIS is such a fierce, formidable team.

Contact Allan Mandell at amandell@kdhnews.com or 254-501-7566 and read his column at KDHPressbox.com

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