There's good news and bad news for the Harvest Preparatory football team.

There's good news and bad news for the Harvest Preparatory football team.

Bad news first: Gone are the quarterback, running back and all-state wide receiver from last season's 5-5 team that also went 5-2 in the MSL-Cardinal Division.

The good news: Coach Jack Johnson thinks this is the strongest team in school history.

"In the history of this school, we've got more kids working out this summer than ever before," Johnson said. "Our team strength is up. We're a stronger team than the school has ever had, and we're also one of the youngest teams we've ever had. The majority of our kids are freshmen and sophomores, and they're very, very talented."

That combination of youth and strength has Johnson, with more than 40 years of coaching experience, looking forward to a season in which he has to replace running back/linebacker Nehemiah Trotter, quarterback Casey Hood and wideout Archric Sims.

"Replacing these kids, I thought was going to be a big problem," said Johnson, whose team opens Friday at Independence. "But with our summer workouts and how the kids have dedicated themselves this year, we are starting to slowly put ourselves together and be a very decent team."

Trotter, who was the team's leading tackler as a sophomore and junior, was limited because of injuries last season. Linebacker Terry Harper took advantage of the opportunity, leading the defense as a freshman. The sophomore has Johnson searching frantically for superlatives.

"He's going to be a Division I football player," Johnson said. "He's a 6-foot, 210-pound kid who benches 350. He's also a 3.85 (GPA) student. I've been around this game a long time, and there's not too many freshmen who lead your team in tackles and are as big and as strong as Terry Harper."

Harper also will see time at fullback and tight end.

"He's got all the tools to play any place you want him to play," said Johnson, whose team beat West Jefferson 26-21 last year to give the Roughriders their first league loss since joining the MSL in 2006.

The youth doesn't stop with Harper. Sophomores Taimere Fambro and Jordan Gaines will play big roles. Fambro, one of the fastest players on the roster, will play free safety and tailback. Gaines will see action at receiver and defensive back.

"He's extremely quick and has great hands," Johnson said of Gaines.

With all the youth on the field, Johnson will rely on his few upperclassmen to set the example. Fortunately, those upperclassmen come in key positions. Junior Brandon Ross takes over at quarterback. At 6-2, 190, he's not as big as his predecessor, but Johnson likes the way he throws the ball.

Anchoring both lines will be Carl Woodford. In addition to his 300-pound frame, he also brings a vital skill set to special teams.

"The biggest thing about Carl is he's a long snapper as well," said Johnson. "He snaps the football 15 yards in 0.8 (seconds). That's scholarship stuff right there."

Senior Josh Morin will shore up the defense, lining up alongside Harper at linebacker.

Despite the team's talent, Johnson knows it could be a slow start for his young squad.

"What we do is just try to improve each week," he said. "We point out the mistakes and we have them only fix one. We'll point out all the good things, and try to have them remember every good thing."

By the end of this season, Johnson may have laid the groundwork for a better future.

"Being in the business as long as I have, seeing talent at such a young age is very refreshing," he said. "Maybe not this year, but in years to come, this football team is going to be a very good one."