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Perry named Harlan’s football coach

A lengthy search for a new head football coach at Harlan High School ended Thursday afternoon as Eric Perry stepped out from behind a curtain at the HHS library to meet his players after an introduction from Principal Britt Lawson.

Perry has 17 years of coaching experience, including eight as an assistant for the Dragons.

“We didn’t want to rush anything and we wanted the absolute best,” Lawson said. “We put feelers out around the state and talked to people from Cynthiana to West Liberty and all over the region. When it came down to it, Eric Perry was the best applicant we had. His success drew us to him. We were very excited to interview him and get him hired. We’re excited about the direction of Dragon football.”

A 1986 Frankfort High School graduate, Perry spent several years as an assistant coach, beginning when he was still a student at Eastern Kentucky University. He coached with his brother, Jerry, at Garrard County, then followed with stops at Lincoln County and Danville. Perry served eight years as the defensive coordinator at Harlan, spread over two stints.

Perry spent one season as a head coach, taking over the James A. Cawood program in 2007, the year before Cawood, Cumberland and Evarts were merged to form Harlan County High School. The Trojans finished 4-7 that season, losing to Estill County in the first round of the 3A playoffs.

The Trojans did finish 2-1 that season against county competition, including a 12-7 victory at Harlan to open the season. Harlan will open the 2019 season at Harlan County High School in the first meeting between the two schools in football. Perry touched on the topic briefly in his discussion with the HHS players, noting “we have to get ready for that team down the road.”

Perry noted in his speech to this year’s players that the Dragons wouldn’t be using inexperience as an excuse even though 11 seniors are gone from last year’s 4-7 squad, including the Dragons’ top passer, top two rushers, top two receivers and seven of their top 10 tacklers.

“I know people talking about this team losing a lot of seniors. I don’t want us to rest on that and make excuses,” said Perry, who noted that the team would start working out the Tuesday after Memorial Day and continue to the state’s dead period, then start again immediately after the dead period ended.

He told the players in attendance he’d like to restore excitement to the program and compete on a state level.

“There’s nothing like playing in regional title games and state championships,” said Perry, who reflected on Harlan’s run as a basketball state contender in the 1990s with “Charles Thomas, Michael Jones, Todd Cox and Casey Lester.”

Perry takes over for John Luttrell, who posted a 7-15 record in two seasons, including a 4-7 mark last fall. J.B. Donahue, who Perry assisted as defensive coordinator on two occasions, compiled a 138-134 mark in 24 seasons from 1993 to 2016. Donahue led Harlan to three of its four Class A district championships in 1996, 1999 and 2014.

“I think you always have it in your blood,” said Perry of his decision to return to coaching after three years away. “This is.a special situation for me.”

Key players returning for Harlan on offense include senior tight end Jon Eldridge, as well as Wil McCarthy, Tyler Cozart, Ethan Shepherd, Ethan Clem, Jeremiah Mills, Jordan Howard and Jacob Howard. Back on defense are Eldridge, Mills, Britt Lawson, Clem, Conner Scearse, Jordan Howrd and Jacob Howard.

“I know there is some good talent coming back,” Perry said. “When you lose 10 or 11 seniors from a roster with 25 or so, that is pretty significant, but I’d like to think I’m patient. I want to be competitive pretty quick. When that happens, I have no idea, but we’ll go at it full go and see what happens.”

Perry said he will stick with much the same defense he’s used in the past, with either a “50” or “43” alignment.

“We’ll be disciplined and make our reads and run. I want us to be good tacklers, of course,” Perry said. “Offensively, we’ll bring a style the fans are really going to like. We’ll be a zone-read offense but not afraid to take shots down the field. I think the fans will enjoy it, and I think the kids will, too.”

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Harlan 2019 schedule

Aug. 23 at HCHS

Aug. 30 Berea

Sept. 6 Phelps

Sept. 13 at Thomas Walker, Va.

Sept. 20 at Middlesboro

Sept. 27 Jenkins

Oct. 4 Open

Oct. 11 Williamsburg

Oct. 18 at Lynn Camp

Oct. 25 at Pineville

Nov. 1 Leslie County