Perry, Dragons hope for better luck in second season


Team members include, from left, front row: Trenton Childers, Braydan Farley, Cameron Maples and Jared Eldridge; second row: Darius Akal, Chris Taylor, Eli Sizemore, Andrew Roark and Donovan Montanaro; third row: Noah Kirby, Ethan Clem, Jayden Ward, Jonathan Lewis and Tayquan Vick; fourth row: Isaiah Hall, Shane Lindsey, Britt Lawson, Dylan Middleton and Malachi Rodriguez; back row: Evan Browning, Cade Middleton, Jeremiah Mills, Landon Perkins and Connor Scearse; not pictured Triston Cochran.

Heading into their 101st season of high school football, the Harlan Green Dragons plan to start their second century with a clean slate and put their 2019 struggles behind them as quickly as possible. Harlan was outscored 332-106 in a 1-10 campaign that included a forfeit win over Jenkins and eight losses by double digits.
First-year coach Eric Perry, a former Harlan defensive coordinator, knew he was stepping into an almost impossible situation a year ago with a roster that numbered in the teens during much of summer workouts. Perry hoped to teach the Dragons what a winning team needed, including strong team leadership, but he was unable to turn around the program’s fortunes in one season.
“We attempted to do that last year, but the situation we were dealt, with the numbers, it was very difficult,” Perry said. “We had some kids who didn’t understand the commitment, even though a couple of them did. I think we have good leadership with these seniors, and even some of the juniors. Practice has been so good. I don’t dread coming. I think some of our kids would tell you they dreaded coming last year. I don’t think it’s been an issue this year.”
Perry credits the Dragons’ six-man senior class with changing attitudes across the roster going into the 2020 campaign.
“Our senior class has taken on a leadership role, something we didn’t have last year,” Perry said. “There isn’t a lot of nonsense going on. They take care of that for us. I don’t know how good we’ll be, but it won’t be for a lack of effort. I think we could be pretty decent. I really do. I think we could surprise some people.”
Harlan’s roster is up to 25 players going into the season but a shortage of linemen is Perry’s biggest concern at this point.
“We only have 10 offensive linemen on the roster with not a lot of experience,” Perry said. “I think we have some who will be good down the road. They just aren’t real strong yet. That’s definitely going to be the key — how well our offensive and defensive lines will hold up. We have to develop some of those young kids.”
The Dragons’ offense will again revolve around senior running back/quarterback Ethan Clem, who led the team a year ago with 740 yards rushing and eight touchdowns.
“Ethan will be our workhorse again, along with Jayden Ward and Triston Cochran. We want to keep fresh legs out there, so all three will get carries,” Perry said.
Perry is hoping senior quarterback Connor Scearse can stay healthy after missing half of last season with injuries. Scearse passed for 250 yards in five games in 2019. Clem could also play quarterback. Junior Cade Middleton, a transfer from Harlan County, may also see action at quarterback if he is cleared to play.
“Connor has gotten a little bigger and seems hungry to turn things around,” Perry said. “He has a great attitude and great work ethic. All of our seniors have had great attitudes.”
Cochran and Shane Lindsey will alternate at the “H” back in the Harlan offense. Perry said it’s the most versatile position on the roster, lining up in the backfield or at tight end or receiver.
“That guy is our big adjuster in different formations,” Perry said. “Triston is put together with really good speed. He’s one of the fastest kids on the team and is full throttle all the time. We expect big things from him.”
Others competing for playing time in the Dragons’ four-receiver set include Jeremiah Mills, a returning senior starter, and Evan Browning, a junior. Britt Lawson, Donovan Montanaro and Darius Akal will also see action at receiver.
“We have some playmakers,” Perry said.
For the second straight year, the Dragons have only one starter back on the offensive front. Isaiah Hall (6-0, 225), a senior who has gained 25 pounds since last season, will shift from guard to center.
“He was worked really hard in the weight room. He never misses practice and gives great effort,” Perry said. “I look for him to be a leader on the offensive line.”
Jonathan Lewis (5-10, 295) and Landon Perkins (6-3, 360), both juniors, give Harlan the biggest set of guards in the district. Andrew Roark (5-9, 200), a junior, could also see action at the position
“Jonathan has really picked up his effort and worked to get stronger,” Perry said. “This is Landon’s first year with us and is a really big kid who is still pretty raw. He’s a smart kid who we think will continue to get better.”
Perry said the Dragons will “go small” at tackle with junior Dylan Middleton (5-11, 206) and freshman Noah Kirby (5-10, 200) as the probable starters.
“We felt we needed guys with good feet at our tackles and went a little smaller there. Dylan has a good motor and moves really well. He’s very aggressive,” Perry said. “I don’t want to put too much pressure on him, but Noah is going to be a player. He’s a very hard-nosed kid. I’ve used him to show examples to our other linemen of what I’m wanting. He’s an old-school football player.”
The strength of the Dragons’ “43” defense will be the linebacking corps with Clem in the middle and Cochran and Scearse on the outside. Lindsey, Lawson, Trenton Childers, Malachi Rodriguez and Middleton will also see action.
“We feel really good about our linebackers,” Perry said. “We have guys who can run. We’ll have a lot of speed on the field.”
Kirby and Middleton are the probable starters at the ends, with Lewis at the nose and either Hall, Eli Sizemore or Perkins at the tackle.
Ward and Mills are back as the Harlan cornerbacks. Mills led the team in tackles last year with 55, including a team-high 14 solo stops. Ward was tied with Lawson for fourth in tackles with 33.
“They understand what we’re trying to do as far as our coverages,” Perry said. “Jeremiah had a great season. He’s mores aggressive on defense than offense.
Browning will start at one safety, with Montanaro, Jared Eldridge, Akal and Tayquan Vick competing at the other.
Scearse will handle the punting with Clem on kickoffs and extra points.
With defending champ Williamsburg hit hard by graduation, there is no clear-cut favorite for once in District 8 of Class A. The fact that several teams on the schedule are rebuilding should play in the Dragons’ favor.
“We feel we can compete with everyone on our schedule. It wouldn’t shock me a bit if the best team we play all year is the first team (Middlesboro on Sept. 11),” Perry said.


Harlan 2020 schedule
Sept. 11 Middlesboro
Sept. 18 at East Ridge
Sept. 25 at Berea
Oct. 2 Knott Central
Oct. 9 at Williamsburg
Oct. 16 Lynn Camp
Oct. 23 Pineville
Oct. 30 at Leslie County
Nov. 6 Open


Jeremy Clem led the Harlan offense last season with 740 yards rushing and eight touchdowns.


Harlan junior running back Jayden Ward battled for yardage in action last season.