Father still inspiring Harvard
It has been a little more than 13 months since Tony Harvard talked football with his father.
However, the Thomas Worthington High School junior continues to follow his father's advice and is trying to accomplish the things his father wanted him to accomplish.
"He's always there, always with me," Harvard said of his father, Christopher Harvard, who was fatally shot outside a Hilltop bar on Sept. 15, 2011.
"He always wanted me to do my best, try my hardest, and he wanted me to get a good college education," Tony Harvard said. "That was even more important to him than sports."
Harvard already has received interest from Division I college programs, including Cincinnati, Akron and Duke. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound running back surpassed the 1,000-yard mark on Oct. 12 when he helped the Cardinals defeat Central Crossing 28-27 for their second win of the season.
Harvard rushed for 224 yards on 35 carries for his third consecutive 200-plus yard effort and scored two touchdowns, including one on a 54-yard pass play for Thomas' last points.
"He and his dad were always together," said Harvard's mother, Vivian Branham. "He's been playing football since he was 4 and his dad was always helping him. So it was difficult at first, but Tony has held up pretty good. He's stepped up and stayed focused on what his dad wanted him to do. The community has been a big help to us and his coaches and friends have been there for him."
Harvard has rushed for 1,121 yards and eight touchdowns on 180 carries. He also has caught 21 passes for 191 yards.
"These past three weeks, Tony has gone crazy," coach Scott Gordon said. "He has great vision and is extremely quick, but also has a lot of power and strength. He has tremendous balance and can change directions in an instant. He's a cutback runner who uses the whole field and he's already on a lot of college radars. He definitely will play at the next level if he keeps his nose to the grindstone and just keeps working. The sky is the limit."
Harvard would like to study sports medicine or become a sports trainer.
He knows his teammates have his back, especially the offensive linemen.
"I think what has changed in the past month is the offensive line," he said. "They are really doing a pretty solid job and improving."
"We had to move Rockwell Dendiu from guard to center due to an injury and Esai Slaughter worked his way in at right guard," Gordon said. "Richard Spernoga is at right tackle. On the left side is guard Alex Randolph and tackle Brooks Gilmore. Those guys started to understand and the timing of the blocks has improved. They're doing a much better job right now than they were in the first half of the season."
Thomas travels to Hilliard Davidson on Friday, Oct. 19. The Cardinals, who are 2-6 overall and 2-3 in the OCC-Central Division, have not scored on the Wildcats in the past three seasons.
Davidson once again is battling for a spot in the Division I, Region 3 playoffs. The Wildcats beat Olentangy Liberty 28-7 on Oct. 11 for their fourth consecutive victory and are 6-2 overall and 4-1 in league play.
E.J. Jennings rushed for 258 yards and four touchdowns on 46 carries against Liberty, and the defense held the Patriots to 42 yards rushing and 174 total yards.
"(Jennings) has found his groove now and the line is giving him a seam now," Gordon said. "They look like the typical Davidson team to me. They run the ball down your throat and don't care if it's third down or fourth down, they're coming right at you."
The Wildcats are outscoring opponents 25 to 15.1. However, the offense is surging, averaging 36.8 points during the winning streak.
The Wildcats are allowing 10.3 points over the past four contests.
"Their defense is physical and their offense loves to go eight, nine or 10 plays or more (on a drive). I don't think they've even attempted a pass the past two games," Gordon said. "We'll have to get the defense off the field and we'll have to gain first downs and move the ball to keep our defense fresh or else they'll wear us down."