What will a fall in the state of Nebraska look and feel and sound like if it doesn’t include college football? That’s the question on everyone’s mind right now. It’s certainly on that of sportswriters trying to figure out their next steps. Over the last few weeks Hail Varsity has been plotting a plan for the fall. Part of that includes something of a partnership with Kearney Catholic High School’s football program.
Expect to read a lot about quarterback and Husker commit Heinrich Haarberg, the Stars’ program and coaches, and stories you might not get to otherwise hear. I’ll be with the team throughout the entirety of their season—which begins on Friday at 7 p.m. in Wood River against Husker head coach Scott Frost’s old high school—telling stories from practice, from under the Friday night lights, and from off the gridiron.
High school football now gets its turn to run the show in the state.
Kearney Catholic has this motto right now: “Pain with a Purpose,” the coaches say. Do everything with a purpose, even the stuff that wears on you. Those up-downs in the heat of the day when your legs are sore and your lungs are burning, they’re for something. Normally pain wouldn’t extend beyond the field, but this is a weird offseason.
“There’s pain in everything we’re doing right now,” head coach Rashawn Harvey told me. “It’s a pain to wear a mask, you may not want to do it, but you’ve got to wear a mask in school, you’ve got to think about wearing a mask in public, even at home sometimes. We’ve got a purpose and if you want to fulfill that purpose you’ve got to go through some pain, some struggles, adversity, and that’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to be disciplined in everything we do with regards to wearing a mask and staying safe and limiting our contact outside of the circle.”
Over the last few weeks, Harvey and his coaching staff have been focused mostly on itself. It doesn’t have the resources at, say, a major college’s disposal, and that puts more responsibility on the shoulders of its kids. They haven’t much spoken to Wood River about the situation over there. (Beginning this season the Eagles, a C-2 team a year ago, are co-opting with Shelton High School, a D-1 school, to become the Silverbacks. They’ll compete in C-1 this year.)
“We’ve mainly been focusing on ourselves and our program and making sure our young men are making great decisions with regards to wearing a mask,” Harvey said. “We talk about it daily, the importance of it. We use examples around the state right now of teams that have had cases and now they’re not able to play for a week or two weeks or whatever it may be.”
Harvey, before a longtime assistant coach at Kearney Catholic, took over the program in 2016. Normally, the run-up to the season features anxiety about how your defense is going to stop the run or who’s going to get after the quarterback or if you’re going to be able to keep the team fully healthy. These last few weeks haven’t featured as much of that.
“We’re not nervous about getting to play, but we’re nervous about are we going to get to play,” Harvey said. “With COVID out there, is the team going to be able to play? Is the opposing team going to have someone that has symptoms? Are we going to have someone? That’s the nervousness that we have right now.”
That in mind, he’s been pleased with the way his team has handled its business in preparing for the year.
“We’ve been pretty disciplined about our prep and protecting ourselves, and disciplined with regards to staying healthy,” Harvey said. “That’s what we’re trying to convey to our young men—do the things that we need to do to ensure that we can stay healthy. Control what we can control and everything else will work itself out.”
One of those is the defense.
“We’re really excited about seeing how we perform defensively,” he said. “Our program, we believe we’re going to score points and take care of all that, but we’ve got to be able to get out there and show that we can stop the run. That’s been our Achilles heel the last few years, so we made some tweaks in our defense. It’s been looking good in practice, so now we’re ready to get in front of someone else and perform. We’ve got some juniors who had some action last year. We’re excited about their athleticism and how they performed in the weight room this summer, so we want to see them get on the field and show everybody what they can do.”
A potentially key change: bringing Haarberg down from safety to cornerback. At 6-foot-5, the future Husker quarterback plays both ways for his current team. Plays special teams, too.
“He’s gonna be a rangy corner with some speed, a 6-5 guy out there who can move, so we’re saying he can shut down a whole side of the field, which is gonna make our defense that much better,” Harvey said.
Imagine that. A Division I scholarship-earning quarterback, the first Nebraskan quarterback to earn a scholarship to the hometown school in nearly 20 years, not only being fearless about getting hit, but stepping up to be one of the guys delivering hits.
“He’s a game-changer for our program,” Harvey said.
This offseason they tasked Haarberg with being more of a leader. Not that he wasn’t before, but Harvey implored him to be more vocal, to take the team upon his shoulders.
“He’s been doing a great job with leadership with our young men, leading by example,” Harvey said of his quarterback. “He’s upped his verbal leadership. He’s just taking control of our offense, he’s playing defense for us, at a small school he’s playing special teams, so he’s being a great team player and not being selfish and just using his height or his notoriety as a Division I scholarship player. He’s a humble young man. He’s been a great asset to our team.”
Haarberg is what provides that assurance the offense will soar. As a junior, he threw for 1,869 yards and 23 touchdowns while running for 468 yards and four more scores on 83 carries.
Everyone is itching to get on the field.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.