Football

High school football: Coming off tough 2016 season, Harvard looks to change culture

HARVARD – Harvard’s veteran players – low in numbers, but strong in heart – tried to make something positive out of the most frustrating football season of their lives.

The Hornets’ lone win came with a forfeit from Chicago Kelvyn Park, which could not field enough players. They were shut out four times, scored a total of 39 points and, worst of all, players felt some teammates did not put forth their maximum effort.

“It was hard because we lost some of our best players, like Hunter Freres (to injuries) and some other guys just didn’t really care,” Hornets running back-defensive back Ryan Stephens said. “They didn’t really try in the offseason. Normally, in the winter, you’d see one or two football players in the weight room (after school)."

Dylan Stephens, Ryan’s twin and the Hornets quarterback, said their five seniors sought to change that vibe in the offseason.

“It gave us motivation for this year, something to look forward to this season,” quarterback Dylan Stephens said. “Getting better, pushing forward each day. Being coachable and showing up, so people can be full into it. Having fun and doing our thing.”

In which case Harvard, even with two weeks left before kicking off its opener at Oregon on Aug. 25, already feels like a better team.

“We have five seniors,” Ryan Stephens said. “All of us care so much about football. After my freshman year I told myself, ‘I’m going to dedicate everything to football.’ Same with our other guys.”

The Stephenses, Brett Lehman, Cole Miller and Carlos Castillo are the five seniors. Hornets coach Sean Saylor feels junior fullback-linebacker Shawn Bough (6-foot, 210 pounds) is the Hornets’ most talented player.

“Our senior group were freshmen my first year here,” Saylor said. “We have five. It’s a good group, just no one in that class wants to play football. Those upperclassmen have worked hard in the offseason. They’re good leaders.”

Harvard has 12 juniors, 18 sophomores and 20 freshmen, so the numbers are improving. Saylor hopes Dylan and Ryan Stephens, Bough and junior running back Danny Pena will be the Hornets’ offensive playmakers, while Lehman (5-9, 210) and Bough will lead the defense at linebacker.

“(Lehman) has been really consistent for us,” Saylor said. “He knows what he’s doing and can make game changes. He’s a pretty good player. (Bough) is a very good outside linebacker. If he gets the opportunity, that’s what he wants to do after high school.”

Bough is almost fully recovered from a broken collarbone, although Saylor was uncertain if he would be ready for the season opener.

The big goal for the Hornets, Lehman said, would be turning things around for a postseason berth.

“I hope we have a winning season and make the playoffs,” he said. “But the main thing is we come together and play as a team. It makes for a more fun season. Last year was tough because there were kids who didn’t put in the work. Hopefully this year we have a lot of kids who want to work.”

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