Aug. 18—ELIDA — Being a first-year head football coach is always challenging.
Kyle Harmon, an Elida graduate, returned to his alma mater last season to take over the Elida program.
Harmon began his coaching career when he was an assistant coach in the Elida program from 2005-2015, including a 2-0 stint as interim head coach during the 2015 campaign. He then went on to become Lima Senior's offensive coordinator for a couple seasons. Then, he spent a couple seasons at Wapakoneta as the pass/outside run game coordinator, before coming back to Elida.
Last season, not only did Harmon have to implement his philosophies into the Elida program, but he also had to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Harmon and his coaching staff got through the pandemic in flying colors as Elida posted a 6-3 record in the abbreviated campaign. The season before Harmon took over, Elida went 0-10.
"We played pretty well last season," Harmon said. "There's a game or two we wish we could have back. Opening up with Van Wert — who last year was loaded (and won a Division IV state championship in 2020) — was pretty hard on us. But going into week two, our kids regrouped. We got after it pretty well. They bought into what we were doing. After that, we played some pretty good football. We made it through (the pandemic)."
Harmon said, coming into last season, there were a lot of questions.
"With having no seven-on-sevens (because of COVID-19) and having just one scrimmage, we went into the season not knowing what type of football team we were," Harmon said.
Elida lost nine starters from last year's squad. However, the cupboard does not appear to be bare for the Bulldogs.
Leading the way on the offensive side of the football, Elida returns its quarterback, junior Larkin Henderson (5-11, 180). Last season, Henderson passed for 897 yards and six touchdowns. He also rushed for 592 yards and found the end zone nine times on the ground.
"We have Henderson coming back," Harmon said. "He had a good season last year. We kind of threw him into the fire, with no seven-on-seven experience during the summer. So, we ran the football a lot last year, because that's what we were efficient at."
Harmon said there is plenty of help for Henderson this season.
"Outside, we have (Sr., wide receiver) Gunnar Kuhn (5-11, 170) and (Sr., wide receiver) Jayden Irons (6-0, 170) coming back. (Center) Colin Mick (6-0, 245, Sr.) and (Sr., offensive tackle) Jamir Jackson (6-1, 200) are back as well. We have some skill guys who are ready to step up. We have sophomores and juniors who are ready to step up as well," Harmon said.
Irons, who also will play in the secondary, said this year's team is focused on taking it to the next level.
"Last year, we were really inexperienced, but we have a lot returners this year," Irons said. "We're really excited on both sides of the football. This year we're like one big family. We're ready to go to work."
Mick, who also will start at a defensive tackle, feels confident the offensive line will come together this season.
"There's a lot of new faces (O-line), but there's a lot of strength there. We're getting a lot of support from the younger guys," Mick said.
Behind Henderson, Jaylen Jones and Brady Kirk should get the starting nod at the running back positions.
Joining Kuhn and Irons at the wide receiver spots, will be sophomore Keaton Hawkey.
Look for Elida to run the Pro Spread offense.
"We're going to take what the defense gives us," Harmon said. "We would like to be balanced, if we can be. This summer went a long way for our passing game. We were able to compete against different teams and different looks. We're hoping with that experience under our belts, we can become a little more balanced. But in the end, we're going to go with what the defense gives us."
Defensively, look for the Bulldogs to employ a 4-3 scheme.
"Defensively, we return all of our DBs (defensive backs)," Harmon said. "We return two of our three linebackers, and two of our four D-linemen. We had some guys who were spot-starting last year — who were starters late in the year. We have a lot of experience back on defense; and we will lean on them, pretty early in the season."
One of the key returners for Elida's defensive unit is senior Mike Niebel (5-9, 185) at a middle-linebacker spot. Last season, Niebel had 58 tackles, including three tackles for a loss.
"Mike Niebel is back at middle linebacker," Harmon said. "He's a tough guy. He's 5-9, 185 pounds, but he's as tough as they come."
Niebel is excited about the potential of this season's defensive unit.
"We have a lot of starters (nine) coming back on defense," Niebel said. "We're probably going to be really strong (defensively). We just have to work on some little things. We should be good. Hopefully, we can put some points up for our offense."
Harmon feels like his team can compete at a high level in the always-tough Western Buckeye League this season.
"Van Wert has a lot back. (Coach) Keith Recker has done a great job. St. Marys is always physical. O-G is always well-coached. Wapak is always well-coached. There are some new coaches in the league, who might have their teams take a step forward. We feel like we should be competitive in the league, but it comes down to us competing week end and week out," Harmon said.