Knowing it would be losing three of its top players at midseason never dampened the Harvest Prep football team's expectations this season.

What helped was that players such as Jaylen Jennings were more than ready to step into bigger roles for the Warriors.

Jennings, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound sophomore, has been among the players who have filled the holes left when senior running back Langston Perry, junior quarterback Terrence Kee and senior wide receiver and defensive back Esco Davis were lost after Week 5 because of the OHSAA transfer rule.

"We're brothers and we love each other, and we're going to keep playing," said Jennings, one of the fastest players on the team. "We're connected. We spent the whole summer working together every day, practicing together."

Harvest Prep improved to 8-1 overall and 5-0 in the MSL-Ohio Division and clinched at least a share of the league title with a 29-27 win over visiting Whitehall on Oct. 25.

The Warriors will look to win the title outright when they play host to Liberty Union on Friday, Nov. 1. The Lions are 0-9 overall and 0-5 in the league.

Harvest Prep, which earned its third win over a Division II program with its victory over Whitehall and has two wins over Division III schools, already has locked up a playoff berth in Division VII, Region 27.

Through five games, Perry had rushed for 448 yards and three touchdowns, while Kee had rushed for 163 yards and three touchdowns and had thrown for 145 yards and one score.

Davis and Kee were transfers from Groveport and Perry transferred from Pickerington Central.

"If I'm being honest, they're all just really quality young men," coach Milan Smith said. "We lost some really quality young football players. They were instrumental in being brothers and mentors, but we have a next-guy-up mentality and all of our guys work hard. Our guys have a tremendous mindset and they're ready to play. We pride ourselves in the way we work and in the way we prepare to play."

Through five games, Jennings split time at running back with Perry and senior Javon Eggert, who had 78 carries for 583 yards and one touchdown through eight games.

Jennings and freshman Aden Rogers both have seen time at quarterback since Kee became ineligible, with the former putting together three consecutive 100-plus yards rushing games in Weeks 6-8.

Jennings, who also plays in the secondary, ran for 202 yards and three touchdowns on 39 carries and had an interception on the game's final play as Harvest Prep beat Ready 21-15 in overtime Oct. 11.

In a 33-0 win over Bexley on Oct. 18, Jennings attempted his first passes of the season, going 3-for-5 for 67 yards and two touchdowns, one each to Desean Bonte and Austin Reeves.

Against Whitehall, Jennings had 86 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 19 carries. His status heading into Week 10 is uncertain because of an injury that occurred late in the game.

"(Jennings is) a sophomore and we've been grooming him for a long time now," Smith said. "He's watched some really good people play here. The word around town is that it has become 'Running back U' here (at Harvest Prep) and he's the next one. What a terrific kid. He wants to do well and wants to be the next guy."

Jennings started most of last season at cornerback while seeing minimal action at running back and wide receiver, but has fit in quickly on offense in multiple roles.

"We've been talking about (losing Kee and Perry) since before the season even started, and honestly I knew I was going to have to play quarterback," Jennings said. "We were planning it before it even happened. I've never played quarterback other than in flag football. I love it. It's different, but I'm going to be an athlete and take on the role they need me to play."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

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