With his team trailing 17-3 against Oak Grove on Aug. 29, senior running back Gerard Harker took the opportunity to impart some words of wisdom to the rest of the O’Hara football team.
“We are better than this,” he remembers saying in the huddle. “Let’s not think about it, cool our minds and have fun because we play better when we’re having fun.”
The strategy worked, and O’Hara ended up winning the game on a 19-yard touchdown run by Austin Evans, who had previously tied the game with a 98-yard kick return.
“That was a season-changer,” Harker said. “We went down early, and I could tell that it was starting to get to our team. I was trying to motivate everyone to get back in the game, and then we had a nice return from Austin Evans that put a spark back in the team to win that game.”
Never miss a local story.
Since then, the Celtics have added three more victories for the team’s second 5-0 start in four years. O’Hara will look to continue its success against Smith-Cotton at 7 p.m. tonight.
Harker is one of a handful of talented seniors to whom coach Jim DeMarea has been able to turn for leadership this year. He has 379 yards and five touchdowns on 34 carries.
Quarterback Michael Briggs, who has verbally committed to Northern Illinois University, has presented a duel threat rushing for 152 yards and six touchdowns in addition to throwing for 868 yards and eight touchdowns. His top target is Zach Drake, who has 346 yards and six touchdowns on 18 receptions to go along with a field goal and a 23-for-25 performance on extra points.
DeMarea also relies on Timi Tinsley and Brian Downs, who anchor the offensive and defensive lines that returned only three starters between them.
The lines’ inexperience, however, has not seemed to slow down the Celtics, who have outscored opponents 214-63. Now DeMarea’s emphasis turns to keeping the team focused on the task at hand.
“They are a group that is laid back, so it doesn’t seem like pressure has affected them and we want to keep it that way,” DeMarea said. “We don’t want pressure to be a big factor.”
DeMarea, who is in his 37th season at the school and 20th year as head coach, went on to say that he hopes the team is enjoying the season as much as he is.
“It’s one of those moments that I hope the kids cherish throughout their time here,” DeMarea said. “I keep telling them that it’s not the coaches’ season, it’s their season. Every season is going to be different, and this is theirs.”
In turn, his dedication to the school gives the students even more incentive to keep this streak alive.
“It means a lot because Coach DeMarea has been at O’Hara a really long time,” Briggs said. “We want to take this team pretty far and hopefully make a run at state this year.”
To reach Kathleen Gier, call 816-234-4875 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.