George Rogers Clark has plenty of speed to burn and opponents could have a hard time keeping up with the Cardinals this season.
Although Clark developed a feel for throwing the football over the past five years, the Cards will rely more on a ground attack this year with a backfield that features plenty of speed, led by senior running back Pokey Harris. Known as an explosive playmaker and multi-sport performer, Harris enjoyed a successful summer and caught the eye of several college institutions, including the University of Kentucky, University of Tennessee, Western Kentucky University, Eastern Kentucky University, Ball State and Wofford.
“We have a lot of good running backs, but Pokey can do a lot of things,” Clark coach Paul Columbia said. “He can run the ball, he can catch it and he can return it. He’s going to be our top running back.”
Mark Davis will join Harris in the backfield, along with Darian Skinner, Darian Farris, Christian Cooke and Tevin Cornett-Williams.
“We’ve got six or seven guys that can carry the ball for us,” Columbia said.
The Cardinals hope to move past last season’s 5-6 campaign, which ended with back-to-back losses to Campbell County, including a disappointing 35-34 setback to the Camels in the opening round of the Class 6A playoffs at Cardinal Stadium. Clark also endured the loss of teammate Mykal Barnes, who died following an automobile accident early in the season.
“I can’t complain about the guys’ effort last year,”Columbia said. “(There) were issues we had to deal with (off the field with the passing of Barnes) and we lost a few close ones at the end. We had two or three games we should have won, but we look forward to doing well in the district and trying to improve on the record.”
In the pocket, Reid Campbell takes over for Andrew Dini, now at Robert Morris University. Dini served as the school’s starting quarterback for the past three seasons. Although Campbell hasn’t built a resume at the position in his career, Columbia said Campbell has been solid during preseason workouts.
“He’s a good runner,” Columbia said. “He’s not tall compared to Andrew Dini, but he does a good job running the offense and he’s very intelligent. He completed about five out of eight passes in the scrimmage (against Woodford County) and he did a good job there. He ran the ball eight or nine times for an average of five or six yards per carry. I thought he did a good job.”
Columbia and his staff also will replace Corey Rogers at tight end and defensive end. Rogers, also a standout on the boys basketball team, is a freshman on the football team at the University of Tennessee at Martin.
The Cards’ offense will be centered around Harris, Mark Davis, Campbell, wide receiver Garrison Conn, offensive lineman Sylan Mayes and center Brent Stephens.
On defense, Columbia likes the depth his team employs at linebacker and in the secondary. Chase Austin, Campbell and Matt Hisle will anchor the three linebacker slots, while Conn, Harris and Davis will give the Cards experience in the defensive backfield.
Columbia said developing a solid defensive line will be a priority as the season progresses, but likes the line’s chances for improvement once the season begins.
“I think our guys can step up and have done a good job so far (during the preseason),” the Clark coach said.
Clark, which won the district title two years ago and was runner-up last year, faces a new district opponent in Lafayette, which replaces Henry Clay. Madison Central and Tates Creek and Clark will be joined by the Generals to create a four-team division.
“We play a tough schedule,” Columbia said. “But, we look to compete for the district title.”
The Clark coach added that the Cards are ready to usher in the season, which begins Friday night against Corbin at Cardinal Stadium.
“We’ve had a good preseason,” Columbia said. “We’ll be ready.”
Coach: Paul Columbia, 13th season.
Last year: 5-6, second in district. Lost in first round of playoffs
Starters returning: Four offense, six defense.
Players to watch: Offense — RB Pokey Harris, QB Reid Campbell, WR Garrison Conn, C Brent Stephens, OL¿Sylan Mayes.¿Defense — LB Chase Austin, LB Campbell, LB Matt Hisle, FS Harris, R Davis, CB Conn.
Strength: Depth at offensive line, wide receiver, running back, linebacker, secondary and kicking positions.
Weakness: Lack of experience at quarterback, defensive front and at wide receiver.
Aug. 19, Corbin
Sept. 2, Montgomery Co.
Sept. 9, at Bryan Station
Sept. 16, Henry Clay
Sept. 23, at Scott Co.
Sept. 30, Harlan Co.
Oct. 7, at Lafayette
Oct. 14, Tates Creek
Oct. 21, at Madison Central
Oct. 28, at Rowan Co
Nov. 4, playoffs, TBA
All games start at 7:30 p.m.