Each season, it seems, features notable highs and notable lows.
Calvin Everett's Cougars have been bugged by injuries and inconsistencies in recent campaigns, and it wouldn't be so frustrating if there weren't promising flashes of brilliance.
When it all comes together, Harrisburg will be an absolute force.
“This group of guys, I think they’re coming together more as a family," said Everett, who directed the Cougars (6-5, 3-4) to a fourth-place finish in the Mid-Penn Commonwealth and a first-round loss in the District 3-AAAA playoffs last year. "I think they have a tighter bond than some of the teams I’ve had in the past. That’s huge. We have to continue to tighten those links up.
“We’ve done a lot of things in the offseason in terms of training that helped with that process. And we’ve been preaching and preaching and preaching. I look at the guys now vs. where they were in January, and they’re a lot closer to each other. A lot of it has to do with the things we went through in the offseason.”
Harrisburg showed major promise last year with a 3-0 start that included wins over non-league District 3 city rivals McCaskey, Reading and York.
But then came three straight losses to Commonwealth rivals Cumberland Valley, Central Dauphin and CD East. Next came three wins to get the Cougars back into playoff position, but the season ended with a blowout regular-season loss to Carlisle, and another narrow playoff defeat vs. CD East.
“We’ve been practicing since November and have been training hard, daily, no breaks," linebacker Andre Young said. "So it’s definitely going to be a change from last year.”
Young, lineman Chad Cooksey-Easter and corner/running back Ahkee Cowan represented the Cougars at Tuesday afternoon's Mid-Penn Media Day.
The team also features beast-mode defensive lineman Damion Barber, who's already picked up eight NCAA Division I offers, most recently from Penn State.
“He’s just a natural freak athlete," Everett said of Barber. "He’s been like that since he’s younger. Now he’s starting to develop into a football player. He’s starting to learn skills. He’s getting techniques. His work ethic is getting where it needs to be. He’s consistent with his workouts and showing up every day. Those are the things that were missing that are coming full circle. He’s going to be that much better than he was last year.”
Players like Cowan, Young and Cooksey-Easter have been vital to the continuing development of some fresh-faced skill players, like QB Yahmir Wilkerson, Shaquon Anderson-Butts, Shatique Patterson and Justin Carter.
“We’re young but we’ve got a lot of players focused this year," Cowan said. "We hope to break the cycle [of inconsistency]. We’ve got big expectations, coming out working hard every day and getting better.”
Added Cooksey-Easter: “Gotta stay focused on the goal, stay working towards your goal. Don’t let anything get you off track. Our young guys are performing well in practice. I think they’ll deliver for us this season.”