PANTHER OF THE WEEK: Harrison remains catalyst for Panther offense
By Lance Catchings
After a stellar junior campaign last season, senior running back Kyle Harrison had only one focus headed into his final year playing for Liberty Hill: Do it all again, but do it even better. To achieve this, he dedicated his entire offseason to becoming bigger, stronger and faster for the road that was ahead.
“My mindset coming into the season was to grind in the offseason and be better than I was last year,” Harrison said. “I wanted to have better numbers my senior year than I did my junior year, because this was my last one. I wanted to make the ride fun and have fun with my guys.”
Fun is exactly what the senior has been having. This season, Harrison has rushed for 2,607 yards with 37 rushing touchdowns through 13 games. He averages just over 200 yards per game and a whopping 12 yards per carry. Add in another 256 receiving yards for three touchdowns and 324 kick return yards with two touchdowns, and he is well over 3,100 all-purpose yards with 42 touchdowns and at least one more game to play.
As a freshman, Harrison’s first varsity carry was a surprise. When they called his number, he said he just ran for his life. Harrison is still running for his life, albeit with less fear.
“When they call my number now, I am a lot calmer than I was back then,” Harrison said with a laugh. “I constantly think downhill running and don’t let anyone tackle me. I still think run for my life and run as fast as I can. I feel like I see the field a little better now, because I am more confident and composed while I am running. I see the field better, which makes it easier to run faster and make cuts.”
When asked how he has turned in such an explosive senior campaign, Harrison humbly gave all the credit to his offensive linemen.
“It is my line that leads to my success on inside running,” he said. “It is not like I am breaking 10 tackles to get a touchdown, because most of the time I go untouched. It is the misdirection and the offensive line giving me holes. When I see it, I hit as hard as I can. A lot of the time, that leads us to the end zone celebrating.”
Against La Vernia last Friday, Harrison carried 23 times for 216 yards and two rushing touchdowns. He also had a 61-yard touchdown reception in a crucial moment to give the Panthers the lead for good. It was tough sledding against La Vernia in the first half, but Harrison said his team needed to get out of its own way, which they did successfully in the second half.
“We had the same mentality for La Vernia as we would with any other team,” he said. “We had a lot of turnovers, and at times in the beginning, they seemed more physical than us. Once we got it together and talked in the second half, we started wearing them out. We just needed to keep fighting, playing our game and we got the job done. At halftime in the locker room, we told each other for nobody to break down. We talked to our coaches about what we saw on the field so we could fix some things, and we got a lot of answers. We came out believing we could come back. Our defense held them to a touchdown and offensively, we prevailed.”
Harrison said the Panther senior class believes in each other, and even when they are trailing, they trust the process. After La Vernia took a 17-14 lead in the second half, Harrison made the play of the game. Liberty Hill lined up in a heavy tight I-formation, play-actioned, then hit a streaking, wide-open Harrison up the seam. Quarterback Jacob Cearley threw a beautiful touch pass, and Harrison did the rest.
“There are times where we, as seniors, know it is up to us and we need to make a play,” Harrison said. “We’re not going to just roll over and let another team’s seniors overplay us. We know we are the best seniors on the field, and we know we have worked hard to earn it. I knew that La Vernia was not going to quit, but we could beat them if we got our stuff right. We knew we were shooting ourselves in the foot with the turnovers, and I told everyone we need to go out and be crisp with no more mistakes. I knew Coach Walker was going to give us something crazy, and he did. As soon as he called it, I got excited and I knew I was going to make something happen. We needed it, and I knew La Vernia was not ready for it.”
Harrison may look small in stature on the field, but runs with the mentality and power of a much larger back. He doesn’t mind running inside, between the tackles, and said his offseason training is what has led to him staying strong and injury-free.
“I think what has really helped me with injuries was how hard I went in the offseason,” he said. “I also think it is a mindset. When I am off the field, I know it was from the weight room and how much time I put in to get myself healthy and stronger, so I could avoid injuries. Every game, I know I am not the biggest. I am usually one of the smaller guys, and that puts a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. I think some teams do underestimate the power I run with. We were in the weight room five days a week, working on explosiveness and getting stronger. Nobody realizes how tough that is. Breaking yourself down to get mentally and physically stronger is tough, and nobody understands what we do in the offseason to build ourselves up.”
Heading into the State Semifinal game against a Carthage team riding back-to-back State Championships and a 40-game win streak, Harrison exudes nothing but confidence.
“We know Carthage is a great team, and we will approach the game with confidence,” he said. “We are not going to let anybody scare us. We know if we come out physical and do our job with no turnovers, we’ll get business done. We just must be more physical and faster than any game we’ve had this year.”
With one, maybe two games left in his high school career if all goes well on Friday, Harrison is excited to have the opportunity to lace up his cleats again with his teammates as they continue their journey toward State.
“I have enjoyed making memories with my teammates this year,” he said. “It is fun winning, and that is what we went through the offseason for. It is fun playing football and making memories. Even in playoffs, seeing the community come out and cheer for us has been a great experience.”
In what could be his final game as a Panther, Harrison is sure to make some highlight-reel plays this Friday, just as he has done all season.