Known for having a hand in Harrison’s current rise on the football field, three of its former players were back in town this weekend as Black Hills State visited Colorado State-Pueblo.
Not far away, the Panthers’ feel-good season rolled on.
Stuck inside a hotel just down the road, former Harrison quarterback Sam Garcia along with 2015 graduates Markez Boykin and Isaiah Tivis were in and out of film sessions and meetings during Harrison’s 28-3 win over Pueblo County on Friday.
Their phones still buzz with Harrison scoring updates now and again -- a gleeful reminder about a program they helped point in the right direction.
“They’ve had a lot to do with it,” Harrison coach Al Melo said. “They were seniors when we went to the playoffs two seasons ago, they were all starters, they were all-conference players.
"They were really good as being mentors to kids that are still in the program now.”
Coming off three straight losing seasons, Garcia and a yearning senior class worked to alter both a program and school identity.
They believed “togetherness” on the football field could pave the way.
“I guess we were just tired of it,” Garcia remembers. “We decided as a team that ‘Hey, we got to change the culture at the school, because if we don’t, Harrison is going to be forever looked down upon.”
With family culture on its way up, the Panthers finished the year 7-4 for just their second winning season in nine years and staked a place in the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Harrison has added two more winning seasons since then and should be among the favorites to win a 3A state title next month. The Panthers (8-0) are one of three undefeated teams left in the classification.
“It shows we had a role in it,” Markez said. “We showed them the way to win, the way to work as a team and the way to bond with each other."
As current-junior Nate Mesa puts it: "They showed us what we have to do.”
Melo was among the former coaches and teammates on hand when Garcia, Markez and Tivis took the field at the ThunderBowl on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets fell to the ThunderWolves 49-0.
Asked how often he catches up with his former players, the coach responded: "All the time."
They look at film, he said. "They try and tell us, 'Hey look at this or look at that.’"
Mainly, though, "they're very excited about what we're doing and how things are going."
Movin' on up
Since Melo took over in 2007, the Panthers have had 17 kids go on to play college football.
The 2015 class -- Melo's largest selection of signees -- saw four reach the college ranks. In addition to Garcia, Boykin and Tivis, Jaylon Sibley went on to Valley City State University, N.D.