2021 Football Preview: Harris has Gaston moving forward

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Pictured, from left: David Blanton, Josh Bailey, Trent Pinson, James Blanton, Brady Underwood.

By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor

Whatever else happens this season, the Gaston High football players will be thankful to suit up for a Week 10 game.
The Bulldogs were forced to forfeit the final two games of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns. After defeating Asbury in the season opener, Gaston lost its next seven games.
“Last year, we were doing the best we could in a horrible situation, and that showed up on the field,” said head coach Matt Harris. “But when you come in late and you’ve got a pandemic going on and [have only] three seniors and one junior, that’s kind of the situation you’re dropped into. I started two eighth graders on my offensive line last year. They had no clue what went into a varsity game [and] what a varsity defensive lineman really looked like. But they know now.”
However, the program’s junior varsity did finish its schedule of games, an accomplishment that should reap dividends in terms of depth for this season.
“That’s what a lot of our returning starters are drawing off of [with] finishing strong,” said Harris. “Honestly, our kids haven’t worried about last year’s negatives. All they’re doing is looking forward and looking at what they can do in the future. Our kids have bought into that idea that this is a building process, and we’re just going to keep working every day. The biggest thing is the weight room, which has changed our culture so much that it’s not even funny.”
In addition, the 2021 Bulldog roster is fortified by several players who did not participate last season due to COVID-19 concerns.
“That has bolstered our offensive line a great deal. We’ve picked up some athletes who were just playing basketball who have decided to come out and help us with football. We’re sitting at about 45 to 50, [grades] 7 through 12, so our numbers are looking good and kids are buying in.
For the second year of the program, we’re ahead of where I wanted to be. I honestly did not expect our numbers to go up this much in one year. That speaks highly of the kids we’ve got on our team and in our program.”
Junior Cayden Battles returns at running back and defensive end.
“Cayden really was a leader for us on the field last year,” said Harris. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he plays like he’s about 300 pounds. He plays hard and he plays his guts out.”
Senior running back/defensive end Trent Pinson is the team’s lone returning senior.
“Trent is our elder statesman as a senior this year,” said Harris. “He’s been a phenomenal leader for us on and off the field. He does everything right and holds everybody to the standard. We’re really proud of him and what he’s accomplished heading into the season.”
Returning on the offensive line are junior Aaron Wood and freshman Nemo Samples.
Gaston’s Class 2A Region 6 competition includes Westbrook Christian, West End, Sand Rock, Southeastern, Locust Fork, Spring Garden, Cleveland and Donoho.
“I know people don’t really talk about us a whole lot, and that’s good because our guys like to do it that way,” said Harris. “We’ve tried to teach our kids that God smiles on quality work with great effort, and they’ve taken that up. Our guys now understand what we expect out of them and what our expectations are, and they’re living up to it. I just can’t express how much pride I have in the guys that we’ve got.”
Staff writer Emma Kierkemier contributed to this article.

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