It was Harris County’s last game of the 2012 season and the result was not in doubt.
After an improbable eight-game winning streak carried the Tigers into the Class AAAAA quarterfinals, their best finish in school history, they ran into arguably the best player and hottest team in the entire state. Gainesville, which went on to win the state championship, beat Harris County in that game 64-13 behind the stellar play of quarterback Deshaun Watson.
More than five months later, Harris County is back on the field for spring practice, and the taste of that loss still lingers.
“We’re just ready to play,” said Key Hicks, offensive and defensive lineman for the Tigers. “It seems like it was just yesterday we lost the game. We haven’t really forgotten about it. We were ready to play as soon as the game ended.”
Any time a team goes on an unexpected run like Harris County did a year ago, winning eight straight after losing its first four games of the season, expectations and pressure mount for the following season.
Tigers coach Tommy Parks knows it will be no different for his team when it begins its season in the fall. That’s why he’s focused on getting the team prepared in the spring.
“There’s no doubt that when you have that success, you get the X on your back,” Parks said. “We’ve got a little bit of a target now, and we accept that. Now, we’re just focused on making it through spring.”
Adding to the challenge is the fact the team lost two of its leaders, one on each side of the ball. Defensive end Jay Ellison is graduating and moving on to play at Georgia Southern. Quarterback Justin Wright, the team’s catalyst on offense, according to Parks, is also graduating.
That’s not to say the team doesn’t have plenty coming back, as well. There is 2,000-yard rusher Esaias Chapman, who will run behind a talented and experienced offensive line. A.J. Howard, who was one of the team’s main contributors on defense, is back alongside Hicks. Taquon Marshall will take over the passing duties.
Altogether, seven are back offense and six on defense.
“These are guys who understand the value of being leaders,” Parks said.
Chapman added that, even though he will come as no surprise to opposing defenses, he doesn’t feel any pressure to perform.
“Everybody’s ready,” he said. “We’re looking to raise the bar even higher than last year. We know a lot of people don’t expect us to come back and be as good, but we’re hoping we can surprise everybody again.”
This time, they’d like to do it from day one, rather than five games in.
“We’ve got to know what to do when fall comes around,” Howard said. “That’s what we’re focusing on this spring: Getting everything ready so we can start off on a good note. We’ve got to start like we finished last year.”
Howard, of course, is referring to the eight games before the loss against Gainesville, though he admitted he’s thinking about that game as well. More than that, he’d like another shot at the state champs.
“Yeah, we’re going after Gainesville,” he said. “I’m not afraid to say it. We’d like to win the region and then, yeah, we’d like to win a state championship.”
It’s not out of the question, but Parks is keeping things focused on spring practice for now.
“All that is history,” he said. “It’s water under the bridge now. You’re only as good as your next ballgame. Right now, our biggest rival is Houston County.”
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.