GASTON SENIORS. Pictured, from left: Zachary Thacker, Micah Wainwright, Kobe Harris, Javier Aguirr. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
As far as Gaston head coach Matt Harris is concerned, and and all doubts with regard to his team’s toughness can be laid to rest.
“This is my third year here, and I feel like we’re finally at the place where we can do the things we’ve talked about since I got here, which is to play physical, old-style, hit-em-in-the-mouth football.”
The Bulldogs’ lone 2021 win was a forfeit win over Southeastern in Week 3. Gaston’s last victory on the field was over Asbury in the 2020 season opener.
“For the first two years, we essentially were a junior high team with a couple of seniors,” said Harris. “Now, we’re finally a varsity football team.”
Harris pointed to the fact that the numerous former greenhorns who were forced into prominent roles due to injury or lack of depth can now be considered battle-tested veterans.
“If you go position by position, there is not a guy on our team, no matter how young, who has not had to step up and play on Friday nights over the past two years,” said Harris. “So, to us, they’re all returning starters, and they carry themselves that way. It’s makes it so much easier when you can trust your guys and know that they’ll hold themselves accountable.
“The biggest thing is how much they’ve matured physically. We’re faster, we’re stronger and we’re bigger. Now what we have to do is go out and prove that we can win.”
Harris also spoke to the mental toughness his players have gradually developed.
“These guys are starting to understand the difference between being hurt and being injured. They’re not going to let a dislocated finger stop them from playing in a football game. That’s part of having the mentality to play on the varsity.”
The team lost only six seniors, and most of the skill players return. Back in action are senior halfback/linebacker Kobe Harris, who rushed for 487 yards and seven touch-downs last year; junior running back/linebacker Josh Hester, All-County sophomore lineman Nemo Samples and junior lineman Luke Hollingsworth.
“The biggest thing about those four gentlemen is that they do everything right and they lead by example,” said Harris. “They’re going to be where they’re supposed to be and doing what they’re supposed to be doing. They play football the way it’s meant to be played.”
Also back are senior receiver/defensive back Justin Pope, senior defensive back Ethan Herren, sophomore lineman Nate Oliver, sophomore receiver/defensive back Kodie Bogle, senior running back/defensive end Cayden Battles and senior lineman Aaron Wood.
Along with Etowah County neighbor West End, the Bulldogs will face Southeastern, Holly Pond, Cleveland, Locust Fork and Pleasant Valley in Class 2A, Region 6 competition.
“This is a team that I really enjoy being around,” said Harris. “They look out for one another and treat each other with respect. They’ve matured into a bunch of guys that will help coach each other and help someone out if he doesn’t know what to do.
“ It’s just a great bunch of guys, and I’m really excited to see what they can do this year.”