By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS – Jacob Pierson was tired of it.
Suffering through 17 losses in his first 19 varsity games, the Harker Heights senior lineman wasn't sure if he wanted to come back for what looked to be another long season of heartbreak with his third coach in four seasons.
"(Quitting) definitely enters the mind, I've heard all of us (senior offensive lineman) talk about it, how we don't know if we can keep playing like this, because it's hard," Pierson said. "When you're winning, it's easy. But it's hard when you're losing."
But, entering tonight's season-finale against Copperas Cove (7-2, 4-2) at Leo Buckley Stadium – what will be the swan song of his prep career – Pierson and his fellow seniors are happy they stuck it out.
"It's hard because we work hard during the summer and it could have been better," said senior lineman Elvin Majors. "But we've put everything we had into it, did the best we could, and just fell short"
Along with Pierson, who joins senior receiver Alex Long as the only current Knights who saw time on varsity as sophomores, Harker Heights is led by a small but close-knit group of seniors who have been through the dredges of losing throughout their time in school.
Pierson helps anchor an experienced offensive line with the likes of Majors and James Bocanegra, each of whom started as juniors a year ago, opening holes for tailback Kerry Sloan, who ranks among the top rushers in District 12-5A with more than 1,200 yards two years since transferring from California.
The defensive side of the ball is led by end Chris Henry, who ranks first on the team with three sacks and third in tackles, along with fellow senior safety/kicker David Tarsa, who's made 29 extra points and two field goals this season while also tallying 49 tackles.
Records aside, the seniors who have been through the trenches know they are better off having experienced hardship than not.
"When I look back on this, I'm going to be thankful because this program helped shape me into a man, helped shape us into men," Henry said. "It helped us build character so we can go out into the world and do the things that we need to do."
But it's because of the efforts of the returning seniors, as well as several more who are in their first year on varsity, that the Knights (2-7, 2-4) rose above the one-win plateau in the first season under new head coach Mike Mullins.
"They are a stabilizing force, especially at those key positions – it kind of starts with them," Mullins said. "So you're just glad you have those guys to lean on and they've been in some pressure situations and they're kind of able to help the younger guys out."
After the school's original head coach, Ross Rogers, retired following a 4-6 playoff season in 2006, the first losing season in Harker Heights' brief tenure, the Knights have compiled just four victories in 28 games since.
Working under two head coaches – Todd McVey and Mullins – the turnover hasn't just been felt in the coaching ranks.
But for those who decided it was better to stay, they embraced their senior season as an opportunity for improvement.
"I don't quit, but there were points where I can't take the losing and I have to work harder so we can stop this – I have to do something about this," Henry said.
Although there wasn't a big difference as far as the win-loss column goes, the seniors' affect on the program has been felt ten-fold.
"It's huge for those guys to stay with the program because you never know in a new system how things are going to go for you as a player," Mullins said. "And for all of them to hang with it, I really appreciate it from that standpoint."
Contact Alex Byington at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (254) 415-2478.