On the field, Harnett Central coach Matt Migliore has been generally pleased with the start of practice. Off the field, the Trojans have dealt with the passing of senior stalwart Patrick Dennis in an automobile accident in late July.
The program has sought to move forward. Central has some quality athletes although there are issues with the quantity of players on the varsity level.
“We’ve had a good start,” Migliore said. “We had a good spring and a good summer. … Year two of the program, we like where we’re headed. Things are starting to click for kids. They’re figuring things out from last year and remembering. It’s starting to make a whole lot more sense for them.
“Depth is our biggest issue right now. We lost 23 seniors last year and our junior class was pretty small so our senior class this year is still small. We just don’t have a lot of kids depth-wise. Our first 11 on both sides of the ball, we like what we’ve got going. We’re just worried about who 12, 13 and 14 are.
Hayden Smith returns at quarterback.
“Hayden will be there,” Migliore said. “He’s progressed. A year in the weight room has done him wonders. He’s grown probably an inch taller. He’s put on weight and gotten a lot stronger. He’s getting some college interest from some good-size schools. He’s got some Ivy League interest. He has a 4.3 grade point average. Some of the smaller D Is and the better D IIs are keeping close eye on him to see how the season goes for him, but we’re really excited about having him back there.”
“Our biggest thing since the last game last year was getting stronger,” Migliore said. “We knew going in last year that that was going to be an issue. Our kids have just dedicated themselves to the weight room. They figured it makes a difference and what a difference it makes. They’ve seen their bodies change. They’ve seen the explosion that they’re producing.
“The biggest thing for us was the weight room and now that we have a little more confidence physically, the mental part is starting to become a little bit easier for them.”
Depth is a concern.
“The varsity team is in the mid-20s,” Migliore said of the number of players. “We feel if we had 10 more kids on the team, depth wouldn’t be an issue and we’d really like where we’re going right now. That’s our biggest concern. Our JV team is running 30 to 35. There’s a good amount of talent and a good amount of kids down there. We like where we’re heading in the next couple of years. We think the program is going to be on the right track for where we want it to be.
The Trojans are working out beginning at 7:30 a.m. during the week. Central will be taking part in the Harnett County Jamboree at Campbell on Friday, Aug. 10.
That will be the only scrimmage for the Trojans before the season opener at West Johnston on Aug. 17.
“I have always elected to just do one (scrimmage),” Migliore said. “I’m not a big fan of trying to play two football games in two or three days and trying to turn it around that quickly from a safety standpoint so we’ve concentrated on doing one. We’ve gotten a bunch of seven-on-sevens that we’ve participated in. We’ve played some of the better schools in the area, some of the better Raleigh schools and the better Johnston County schools.
“We’ve exposed our kids to good competition and they’ve reacted well.”
Passing of Patrick Dennis
The Trojans have been dealing emotionally with a fatal automobile accident that claimed the life of Dennis, a senior fullback/linebacker.
“That’s a tough one,” Migliore said. “Twenty years of coaching and I haven’t had to deal with that. I sure hope I don’t ever have to again. As far as Patrick as a football player, he was a kid we were counting on to probably be our best defensive player.
“Just from the standpoint of the kids emotionally and mentally, he was a kid that was a leader. They followed him. He had friends from every sort of background and every sort of clique and everything. He kind of got along with everybody. There’s not a kid on our team that wasn’t affected by it.
“It’s been tough the last couple of days because we’re on a roller coaster of emotions. We’re trying to be excited and have energy at practice and then we’re turning around and going to his funeral (Wednesday, August 1). We’re on a different side of the emotional roller coaster.
“We tried to refocus this morning (Thursday). We didn’t have the energy that we’ve had the last couple of days. The kids had an opportunity to speak to his family. His family made sure that they weren’t dwelling on it, that they knew that they needed to push forward and play for him and that he’d be there with them.”
Last year, Central opened with a 40-20 loss at home to West Johnston. The Trojans were 2-9 overall and 1-4 in league play in Migliore’s first season as head coach.
“Last year, I thought it was a game we could have won, maybe should have won,” Migliore said. “The scoreboard probably doesn’t reflect that, but we were so inexperienced and just didn’t have a clue how to win a football game.
“I think this year if we get on the wrong side of the scoreboard early, I think our kids are going to respond in a manner like the game’s not over. But to us last year, 7-0, was the ball game. That was the end. They got one early on us and we just couldn’t recover.
“We’re hoping this year to get some momentum at the beginning of the year and build off of that.”