Middleton looking forward to taking over as leader of Harlan offense

By John Henson, Managing Editor

Cade Middleton has waited patiently for his chance to run a high school offense. After two seasons of high school as a backup quarterback at Harlan County and most of another season last fall at Harlan waiting to regain his eligibility following a transfer, Middleton is running the Green Dragons’ offense this summer in preparation for the season opener Aug. 20 at Berea.
Middleton played one game last season as he almost led the Dragons to an upset victory at Pineville in the first round of the playoffs before the Lions rallied to win 21-14. Middleton completed 19 of 43 passes for 217 years and a touchdown in what was perhaps the Dragons’ best offensive performance in a couple of years.
“He brings to the table a lot more than just throwing the ball,” Harlan coach Eric Perry said. “He’s a great leader. The kids listen to him. He leads by example.”
“I’m very excited, finally being able to get a chance to do what I like to do,” Middleton said during a break in a practice session Wednesday. “I like to lead and I like to win, and I think we’ll be able to win some games this year.”
The Dragons’ offense was much more wide open when Middleton took over for the playoff game, something Perry said will continue this season.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if we throw it 20 times a game, but we’re going to run it, too,” he said. “We have some weapons we will use.”
Donovan Montanaro, a sophomore, and Darius Akal, a freshman, have also seen action in practice at quarterback.
“We have a couple of quarterbacks behind him getting a lot of work,” Perry said. “We feel good about that position now.”
Both Montanaro and Akal will also provide support for Middleton as two of the team’s top receivers.
“They have both gotten a lot faster,” Perry said. “A lot of people don’t know but Darius was timed at 5.1 to start last season, so he wasn’t that fast. We timed him at 4.7 the other day. Track has really helped him.”
Evan Browning, a senior, will also see action at receiver, along with Dylan Middleton, who moves from tackle to slot back, and Tayquan Vick.
“Evan is a good target with good speed and hands,” Perry said. “Dylan may have the best hands on the team. Tayquan Vick also has has good hands and is a good route runner. We have several guys we can throw out there.”
Jayden Ward and Triston Cochran return to the backfield and will share carries with Middleton. Ward had five caches in last year’s playoff game to tie with Akal for the team lead, one reception ahead of Browning.
“Triston Cochran and Jayden Ward are among the hardest workers I know,” Middleton said. “They make plays when I need them to. We trust each other and have each other’s backs.”
While he saw limited action in football last year, Middleton found plenty of success in track as he finished fifth in the Class A state meet in the shot put.
“Cade can throw and run, and he’s gotten a lot stronger and faster,” Perry said. “What quarterback in the state can bench 300 and throw a shot 47 feet? He’s a hidden gem that most people don’t know a lot about.”
Middleton’s mom, Tara Bailey Posey, was a track and basketball standout at Evarts before going on to play basketball at Union College. He admits his mom encouraged him to compete in track, even if the events he excelled in were much different than hers.
“She always wanted me to be a track guy, but she was a runner,” Middleton said. “I think keeping that competitive mindset through the entire year helps in all sports though. The strength and coordination you need for that help in football.”
Middleton, a starter at defensive back two years ago at HCHS, will see action in the Harlan secondary.
“He will spell people there, but we want to keep him as fresh as we can,” Perry said.
Even though Williamsburg is again favored in District 7 of Class A, the Dragons are expected to compete with Pineville for second place and a home playoff game.
“I think we have a chance,” Middleton said. “We didn’t have a lot of size last year, but everyone was committed in the off-season. We wanted to make a change in this program. Everyone was in the weight room every day.”