On paper, the 2019 season should be a rebuilding season for Harmony Longhorns coach Don Simon. The graduation losses from last year’s 9-2 playoff team appear staggering.
On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Nate Hersitch (1643 passing yards, 22 touchdowns) is gone. So is running back Justin Gleason (1003 yards, 11 touchdowns) and standout wide receiver Caleb Bass (42-666-12 TDs).
On the defensive side, several other outstanding players including DL/LB Trey Harris (68 tackles, 4 sacks), OLB Ryan Carroll (74 tackles, 2 QS, 4 INT) and LB Keonn James (56 tackles, 3 sacks) were among the graduating seniors.
Given the losses, you would think the cupboard would be pretty bare.
But Simon says that is hardly the case.
“Without question we lost a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns and a lot of good defensive players, but frankly I’m extremely optimistic and excited about the coming year. We were able to get a lot of young players significant playing time last year and now it’s time for those guys to step up. Part of the process to building a successful program is to rotate a lot of players into the lineup so they will be ready to play when it’s their time.”
And even with the losses to graduation, Simon believes the Longhorns are in a re-load process rather than a rebuild.
“Our 2019 roster has a lot of players who may not have posted big stat numbers last year but they played a lot of meaningful minutes for us.”
Still, a big key for the 2019 Longhorns will be who will replace Hersitch at quarterback. Sophomore Keaghan Black and junior Chris Skeldon battled during spring football with no clear winner to the competition emerging.
“They are very similar. Both are tall kids with good feet and strong arms,” Simon noted. “We will use the pre-season camp and kickoff classic to see who wins the battle but it’s nice to know we have two solid players at that position.”
Senior running back Steven Frederick will step in for Gleason at running back; but it’s at wide receiver where Simon believes the Longhorns will not miss a beat despite the loss of Bass.
Kenneth Torres is the leading returning receiver with 29 catches for 331 yards and two touchdowns and should replace the spot vacated by Bass.
“Kenneth played slot for us last year but we will move him around as the situation dictates,” Simon noted.
Michael Marino and Collin Chi will also be significant contributors; while Cade Whitfield and Don Adams will provide depth. Simon described Marino as “a tough kid with great hands” and said Yi had a “great spring” and will step into a starter’s role at wide receiver.
Losing only two starters to graduation on the offensive line, the Longhorns bring back four starters and several others with major playing experience, Simon noted his offensive line would be the strength of the Harmony team.
Despite the losses on the defensive line and linebacker position, the Longhorns do return two all-conference players in Elijah Gunn and Jaun Gomez. Gomez, a rising junior, recorded 55 tackles last season with six quarterback and 16 tackles-for-loss to earn second team all-conference honors; while Gunn had a monster season with 154 tackles, 12 quarterback sacks and 35 tackles for loss. He is a three-year starter and two-time first unit all-conference selection.
“Those two will anchor or defense,” Simon said. “Both players are versatile guys who provide us with veteran leadership and who can play multiple positions as needed.”
In the defensive backfield, the Longhorns will have several new faces, including Chase Henry and Jason Moss.
“Again we lose some starters, but we have some guys that got some experience last year and we are looking for a pretty seamless transition,” Simon said.
On special teams, the Longhorns return another veteran in senior Reece Allison. In 2018, he contributed 66 points, making 45 of 49 extra points and hitting seven of eight field goal attempts.
The Longhorns will remain in 7A this season but will compete in a new district with Melbourne, Viera, Tohopekaliga and long-time rival St. Cloud. The team will open with traditional county power Osceola in a non-conference game on Aug. 23 and play traditional state power Bishop Moore on Oct. 4. It will also play a pre-season kickoff classic at Boone on Aug. 16.
“It’s difficult schedule that will certainly challenge us,” Simon added.