Undefeated and ranked in the state.
But only a short four weeks into a season following a year in which the Beavers went just 3-6 in 2015, it is a fair question to ask, is Harper Creek for real?
While others may wonder that, the confident Beavers believe they know the answer.
“It’s amazing to be undefeated right now,” Harper Creek junior running back Dawson Bartlett said. “We have come out every day, worked really hard, we have a lot of kids that rally behind each other and we have a great team atmosphere.
“So when people wonder if we are for real, I just say wait until the end of the season and we’ll see.”
Harper Creek has been dominant so far in 2016 and is at 4-0, already one win more than it had all of last year. The Beavers are the lone undefeated team in the Interstate 8 Conference. And Harper Creek found itself in the Associated Press state football rankings for the first time this week at No. 8 in Division 3.
“It’s great for the program, great for these kids to be undefeated right now and to get some recognition by being ranked. It’s really nice for us,” Harper Creek coach Mike Seedorff said.
While some outsiders could be surprised by the quick turnaround from a losing record last year to a team that is in first place and is averaging 38 points per game, Harper Creek coaches had a feeling they had this kind of team ready to take the field in 2016.
“We saw these two groups, the juniors and seniors, even back in middle school and we thought they could do some special things,” Seedorff said. “We thought, if they stayed healthy, stayed unselfish they could be good and so far it’s turned out that way. So far we are keeping the team first and have great attitudes and are giving great effort.”
The players saw the same thing.
“Growing up, we knew these two classes would be special,” said Bartlett, who already has 528 yards rushing this year and 10 touchdowns. “These juniors and seniors, we just really clicked as we grew up together and on the football field. As a group, we’ve always had our heads on straight, always ready to attack, we were fearless, ready to take on any opponent.”
The key to this season’s success just might be the struggles the Beavers went through last year. A banged-up Harper Creek team lost its last four games of the year in 2015. With multiple injuries throughout the lineup, Harper Creek was forced to play a lot of young players, including five sophomores, last year. The playing time they all experienced has played a big role in the 2016 results.
“A lot of young kids saw some playing time they normally wouldn’t have,” Seedorff said. “Then as soon as the season ended, this group has worked their tails off in the weight room and in the summer time and it’s paid off.”
But at every corner of the locker room and football field, there are reminders that Harper Creek hasn’t done anything yet this early in the season.
“We are off to a good start, but we aren’t done yet, still have a lot of season left, lot of work to do,” said Harper Creek quarterback AJ Mitchell, who has helped the Beavers to a diverse offense with five TD passes this season so far. “It’s a good feeling to be ranked, it’s a big jump from last year, but now we have to put last year in the past and be ready to take the next step. We still have a lot to prove still, a lot of goals still left to achieve.”
That continues this week with Harper Creek putting its first place on the line in a city rivalry game at Pennfield.
The Panthers, a young team themselves, started the season fast at 2-0, but have dropped two straight since, including a heart-breaker to Marshall in the final minutes last week.
“This is what playing football and coaching football is all about. We have a crosstown rivalry like we have against Pennfield, a key league game, it’s a game to get excited about,” Seedorff said. “We are in the driver’s seat in the league race and we want to remain in the driver’s seat. But at the same time, Pennfield needs a win, so we know it’s going to be a tough game.”
Pennfield is just one of the major hurdles still left on Harper Creek’s schedule as the Beavers still have games left against preseason favorites Coldwater and Marshall. So the question of whether Harper Creek is for real is still to be decided. But being 4-0 and sitting at No. 8 in the state, Harper Creek is off to the right kind of start to get the kind of answer the Beavers would like to see.
“The kids know it’s a long season and they are a smart, mature group so they haven’t talked about the ranking a whole lot. I think they are excited about being ranked, but they know it’s about winning games and making the playoffs,” Seedorff said. “Over the years I’ve been a coach on some undefeated teams here in the past and it’s special. It’s hard to go undefeated and we aren’t even halfway through the season yet, so we don’t want to put the cart before the horse too quickly yet. But to be 4-0 at this point is a nice feeling.”
Contact Bill Broderick (269) 966-0678 or email@example.com . Follow him on Twitter @billbroderick