Huntington head coach Marvin Harris is a confident man.
Entering his third season as leader of the Raiders, Harris sports a 6-20 record and coaches in a brutal District 1-4A that sent six of its eight teams to the playoffs last year.
Despite that and the loss of one of the city’s most talented athletes – quarterback Larry Moton transferred to Woodlawn in the offseason – Harris believes his team will right the ship and contend for a playoff spot in 2016.
“We’re going to be a good football team,” said Harris, whose squad dropped to 2-8 last season in large part due to injuries. “We still have a solid nucleus of players that got good experience over the last two years, and our defense returns seven starters. I think we are going to surprise some people with how well we play this year.”
The Raiders began the 2015 season strong, with a 22-21 win over Mansfield and a heartbreaking 23-20 loss to Captain Shreve. In Week 3, they were in the Parkway game for three quarters before the Panthers put it away, but Moton was injured in that contest. Huntington went on to lose seven straight before a 40-26 win over Bossier in the penultimate game of the year.
“We got down and lost our confidence and our focus after those first few games last year,” said Harris. “Once you lose confidence, it’s hard to get it back. This year, we start out with a clean slate. We have some guys that we feel are good leaders and will help us to win some games this year.”
While the Raiders will rely on their experienced defense to keep games close, they will ultimately need better offensive production to get to the next level. Huntington plays a hybrid offense that utilizes components of the spread and the Wing-T, among others, and relies on a smart, athletic signal caller. Harris feels his attack is in good hands this year.
“T.J. Maiden will be our quarterback, and we’re very comfortable with him there,” said Harris. “He brings a variety of skills to the position, and he’s very smart with the football, making his reads and getting the ball where it needs to go. He’s going to have a good year.”
Offensive coordinator Chad Lewis also sang the praises of his senior field general.
“He works hard, he’s tough, and he’s a good teammate,” said Lewis, who is also going into his third season at Huntington. “He brings reliability, knowledge, confidence in himself and confidence in what we’re doing. Plus, he’s extremely trustworthy in that we know he is going to run our plays to perfection or close to it. We’re fortunate to have him.”
Joining Maiden in the Raiders backfield this season will be a trio of skilled runners in Craig Davis, Dandre Fowler, and Steven Marshall. Lewis says that Davis will likely carry the majority of the load, with Fowler and Marshall playing more of a supporting role.
“Craig Davis, he’s a junior, and probably one of the more talented kids I’ve ever coached,” said Lewis. “He’s a sleeper – not a lot of people know about him – but they will after this season.”
Huntington will be inexperienced at receiver, but have a pair of seniors in Keontae Bellow and Gerald “G.G.” Brown slated to start. Up front, senior guard Quinton Roque will be relied upon to provide leadership to a young group.
On the defensive side of the ball, Harris will look to a pair of veterans to anchor a unit that kept the Raiders in several games last season against top opponents.
“Our leaders on defense are Jaden Martin, our middle linebacker, and War’Vreunta Moore,” said Harris. “Jaden is a junior and calls our defense. He’s a two-year starter at the position. We have a lot of confidence in him. War’Vreunta is the leader in our secondary. He’s a senior and can play either corner or free safety. We expect big things out of them this year.”
Harris believes that this year’s team has a very good shot to compete for a playoff spot.
“We’re going to be better than a lot of people expect,” said Harris. “Realistically, I can see us winning six games and being in the thick of the playoffs. We’ve worked very hard this offseason, and we’ve also worked smart.”