After 23 seasons as an assistant, Brad Harber was selected in June to replace Shelton Felton as the head coach of the Crisp County Cougars after Felton took a job at University Tennessee-Chattanooga.
Harber, who was an assistant on the Cougars sidelines last season, took over a Crisp program that recorded a 13-1 record under Felton, with the one loss coming against Cedar Grove in the state semifinals. He didn’t have to do much in terms of housekeeping to continue the successes Crisp experienced last season. The Cougars are 4-0 and ranked No. 4 behind Cedar Grove, Peach County and Greater Atlanta Christian.
“What I have learned about this football team is that they have done a pretty good job with handling adversity,” Harber said. “You have to understand, with the coaching change, although I was on staff, obviously I had the freedom in hiring a couple of people. So our guys have not only had to adjust to a different personality as the head football coach, but they have had to learn the nuances of the assistants who were brought on board. I am proud of our football team as a whole, just picking up where last year left off.”
Speaking of adversity, the Cougars have been, since the dogs days of summer, lifting weights outside while their new weight room is being built.
“A lot of people do not know that, outside of Crisp County,” he said. “But the school has provided a new weight room for us. But it is not finished yet, although we will have it up and running hopefully in two weeks. But our guys have lifted weights outside all summer long. And we are continuing to lift weights outside as we speak. So I am definitely learning the character of our football team. I do like what I am seeing.”
Harber has been an assistant at numerous schools across the state, and he might be able to explain it better than anyone.
“What I usually say is I have coached as far south as Appling County and as far north as Hart County,” he said. “The bulk of my career, I’ll say, I was at West Laurens when Demaryius Thomas (Georgia Tech, Denver Broncos) was there, and I was his coach there. I have spent time at Dublin, Hart, Appling and Metter.”
A lot of focus this season has been on the top three programs in Class AAA -- Cedar Grove, Peach County and Greater Atlanta Christian -- and for good reason. The three teams have won big games and traded the top three ranking positions all season. But other contenders are not necessarily on the outside looking in.
“This is not skirting the question or dodging it or anything, but I am so wrapped up in Crisp County that it is hard to follow," Harber said. "But I will look occasionally. I have a bunch of good buddies who coach at Peach County, so we rib each other a bit. But I think that the top four are interchangeable, really.
“Fortunately, at different programs in different times in my career I have played all three of those schools,” he said. “So I kind of know what they bring to the table. I know a little bit about their tradition, and I know about what it is like playing those teams on a Friday night.”
And Harber took a moment to discuss each program:
-- On defending champion Cedar Grove: "I don’t think you can deny Cedar Grove at all. They lost some seniors last year, but my gosh, last year’s juniors and sophomores still bring a lot to the table. I know that the coach and coaching staff do a good job there. They're trying to do the same thing that we are doing, you know, kind of building a program to where we are relevant every single December. You cannot count those guys out. They earned that top spot last year."
-- On 2016 semifinalist Peach County: "Peach County is just right down the road. The word on the street with them, and it is true, is that their team speed is undeniable. They have some big names and big-time players. They have a wide receiver there (Kearis Jackson, UGA commitment) that everyone in the country wants. I think very highly of them. I know for a fact that they are very well-coached and will do the job week-in and week-out."
-- On 2016 runner-up GAC: "They do such a good job there. They have such really, really good players. Well-known players. That program year-in and year-out is right at the top of the pack. One reason for that, a reason that people might not think about, is that every week you go into the playoffs is just like getting extra practice for your young guys. So once you start establishing a playoff team year-in and year-out, then you are gaining weeks of practice for the young guys. That can do nothing but benefit your program. So GAC is that type of team. They’ll be right there every year."
That said, Harber is pleased that his program is becoming part of the discussion -- 2016 semifinalist with 13-1 record; 4-0 start this season with a No. 4 ranking.
"GAC and Peach County have been there and done that, year-to-year," Harber said. "Crisp and Cedar Grove, in my mind, are kind of trying to establish themselves as a year-in and year-out deal. ... No disrespect to any other Class AAA teams, but that looks about right to me, where those rankings fall."