The Gibsonburg football coach can’t turn to a freshman phenom like Terrelle Pryor to help save the Golden Bears’ season, in much the same way Tressel has done at Ohio State.
Harp must use the horses he already has in his stable to lead Gibsonburg to a winning record, and the third-year coach is confident he has a bunch of thoroughbreds in his 12 seniors.
Case in point: On Sept. 12 the Bears lost 49-13 at Suburban Lakes League favorite Eastwood. Seven days later Gibsonburg bounced back in impressive fashion, toppling a solid Lake squad 43-7.
“We challenged the kids,” Harp said. “We said we’ve done this in the past and asked the seniors to take on that role. They’ve put this on their shoulders. If we get this turned around it’ because of the seniors, and they've taken it to heart and run with it. They’ve been here since the beginning and they stood up and said it (losing) is not going to happen anymore.”
The Bears’ motto this season is WIN – What’s Important Next – as in win the next play, the next series, the next quarter, the next practice.
Harp pointed to a handful of seniors who have been the most instrumental in turning Gibsonburg into a confident squad, including end/tackle James Cantrell, his twin brother, linebacker/offensive tackle Pat Cantrell, receiver/cornerback Andy Gerbich and quarterback Tony Egbert.
All four of those players are three-year starters.
“You’re always told as a coach that you're only as good as your seniors,” Harp said. “If you don’t have a good senior class, you're going to struggle. We’ve been fortunate this year in the leadership and play we’ve gotten our of our seniors.”
The Bears improved to 3-3 and 2-1 in the SLL after last Friday’s 24-20 upset win at Elmwood (3-3, 1-2), which was predicted to finish third in the league. Gibsonburg was picked to finish fifth.
Harp said it was the Bears’ first win over the Royals in eight or nine years, but that tidbit was never brought up after the victory.
“We didn’t mention it at all,” Harp said. “What’s helped us is we’ve taken each game as it comes and not put any more emphasis on each game and not made a big deal out of it. Just be prepared and play with a little attitude. Let’s not worry about whom we’re playing or what their record is.”
Harp said Gibsonburg’s coaches challenged the team following the loss to Eastwood to play with a chip on their shoulder and start proving people wrong, that the Bears can compete with some of the better teams in the SLL.
“The kids, particularly our seniors, have taken to that,” Harp said. “Maybe we can play with anybody in the league and compete in the SLL. They’ve started to play with that chip on their shoulder or that ‘us against the world’ mentality.”
Gibsonburg, which went 31-41 in the SLL the previous 10 seasons, finished 2-8 and 1-6 in the league a year ago. Standout play from several key individuals has helped turn the tide this season.
Egbert, who ran for a score and threw two TD passes to Gerbich in the win over Elmwood, has completed 55-of-95 passes for 589 yards and six touchdowns, with four interceptions.
As a sophomore, Egbert set school marks for completions in a game (24) and season (111).
“He has done exactly what we need from Tony,” Harp said. “He’s managed the game and he doesn’t put us in poor situations. He has been very controlled with the ball. He’s improved his accuracy these last few games and just been very consistent.”
Gerbich caught a school-record 10 passes for 114 yards against Elmwood. He also has two interceptions from his cornerback position.
“Andy is a kid who has really taken advantage of his senior year,” Harp said. “He’s had his ups and downs like everybody else and he has decided he wants to make his senior year memorable. This year he has probably been the biggest surprise both offensively and defensively.”
Junior running back Avery Potridge is averaging nearly 100 yards rushing, including a 155-yard effort (on 33 carries) against Elmwood.
“He’s having the year we expected of him,” Harp said. “He’s coming off a productive sophomore year.”
This could prove to be the best Gibsonburg team since former coach Tom Pfeiffer led the Bears to three straight SLL championships in the late 1990s.
Harp said this year’s team has “absolutely” provided the spark to help the program turn the corner.
“It’s taken a lot of hard work,” he said. “The kids have bought into what we’re trying to accomplish here. The results are showing.”