HARRISBURG — The Harrisburg High School football team will suit up for the first time in the history of its program Friday evening, when it takes the field for its jamboree at Central Methodist University.
The Bulldogs are led by Head Coach Travis Kinkade, who played football for Centralia High School and starred as both an offensive and defensive lineman on a state championship-winning team. Kinkade said that the Bulldogs are a "bare-bones" football program that will run simple schemes.
WHAT: Harrisburg High School Football Jamboree
WHEN: Friday, 7:00 p.m.
WHERE: Central Methodist University in Fayette
WHAT ELSE: Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for students
The team is not currently affiliated with a conference and will play a nine-game schedule, with most games contested at the junior varsity level. School officials, however, hope to play a full varsity schedule next fall and think that the addition of a football program will help the school find an activities conference.
For a town accustomed to winning (Harrisburg won two boys basketball state championships in 2006 and 2008; and two girls basketball state championships in 2010 and 2012 in Class 2), the Bulldogs seem to have the right man in charge. Kinkade played both offense and defense at Centralia, was a two-time all-state player and helped the Panthers win a state championship in 2003.
"I expect my kids to compete," Kinkade said, adding that he hoped the football program would be "competitive in the win-loss column" over the next five years.
Kinkade said that the Bulldogs will compete this year by "keeping it simple and will focus on helping his players learn the physicality of the game. "They're ready to hit, and I'm ready for them to hit," he said.
Of Harrisburg's nine games, seven games will be junior varsity contests. Kinkade said that the other two will be "varsity-style" match-ups.
Harrisburg Principal Steve Combs said the school intends to have a full-fledged varsity program next year. He also referred to the current program as "bare bones." Combs, however, was quick to praise the Harrisburg Bulldog Booster Club which, in its first year, raised approximately $32,000 for the football team. Josh Stephenson, vice president of the booster club, also said that a private donor had agreed to provide up to $50,000 in matching funds to the football program.
Thus far, the football program has used the booster funds to buy equipment and uniforms. At this point, the school's main priority is simply having their players play football. Both Combs and Stephenson said that a functioning football program could go a long way to enticing conferences to consider including the Bulldogs.
The quest for a conference was a "major factor to push for football," Stephenson said. Belonging to a conference will also allow students to receive all-conference awards, Stephenson added.
For now, the team will play as an independent. It will also play as an unknown. Bulldog fans will see their team take to the field for the first time Friday, but may have to manage their expectations in the school's first season.
"You can't just snap your fingers and be great," Combs said. "This will take time."
The Bulldogs open their season at home at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 3 against Tipton, and the complete season schedule can be found on the school district's website, under "Upcoming Events."