There’s a sign on the side of Mt. Pleasant’s football stadium that lists the school’s Mr. Football nominees:
2004: Ro-Ro Fennessee
2005: Roderick Whitaker
2006: Marco Dailey
2007: Marco Dailey
One has yet to be added — 2008: Preston Gilbreath.
Princeton Harlan might have been the next name put on the list, but his chances likely disintegrated when he and two juvenile teammates were charged with child rape on Wednesday.
The downfall of Harlan, a Southeastern Conference recruit, has stunned the rural town of 4,561.
“It’s really devastating,” said Wendall Holder, a 1989 Mt. Pleasant graduate who has lived in the small Maury County city his whole life. “Princeton is being looked at by major colleges and it’s just a big deal here. He had a lot ahead of him, and he had set some passing records here at Mt. Pleasant. He was an excellent basketball player, too.”
Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Auburn, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Cincinnati have shown interest in Harlan, a 6-foot-4, 188-pound senior quarterback who has passed for 1,585 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. He also rushed for 581 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Tigers (5-2).
Harlan’s arraignment is scheduled for Nov. 5 in Maury County Circuit Court. He was released from jail on Wednesday on a $100,000 bail. The three players are accused of having consensual sex with a 12-year-old girl from Mt. Pleasant. Detective Tony Bailey told The Columbia Daily Herald that the girl got pregnant and the pregnancy was terminated.
Child rape is a Class A felony in Tennessee. First-time offenders can face up to 25 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
Holder, whose stepdaughter is a water girl for the Mt. Pleasant football team, knows Harlan and the family of the alleged victim.
“It’s traumatic for what’s happened for her,” Holder said. “For both parties involved it’s pretty hard.”
Wayne McWright, a painter who lives in Mt. Pleasant, said he was shocked when he heard the news about Harlan, his teammates and the alleged victim.
“I don’t know what would make a young fellow get off track like that,” McWright said. “It’s alarming news to me. It makes me sad to hear that for the family and all. It’s a tragedy more so for the young girl and then also my heart goes out to the young fellow, too, because somehow he got off track. Young people sometimes do foolish things.”
Nakeda McClenic, a Mt. Pleasant Grille server who graduated from Mt. Pleasant in 2003, also was startled when she heard the news.
“Princeton is a good boy,” McClenic said. “He has never got in any trouble. I’ve known him since he was maybe 8. He’s like a cousin to me. I was just shocked that that really happened to him. He’s always been a good guy. He was going to go to college to play football and now he just messed his life up.”
Ed Brennan, who owns a building on Main Street that houses the Helping Hands Mission in Mt. Pleasant, said the charges against the players were “like a bomb going off in Mt. Pleasant.”
“It’s got to wake people up and everybody heard it when it went off,” Brennan said. “It’s a small town. If you hear about (something like this) in Nashville, it’s kind of, ‘Well, that kind of stuff goes on up there.’ If you hear it down here, these are supposed to be good Christian people. We’re a tight-knit little family. Everybody knows each other.
“We look out for each other’s kids, but we’re missing something. We’re missing the kids in church and maybe this will drive them back into the church where they belong. I hope it does.”