These are exciting times for Harding. They really, really are.
A new season beckons, one rife with optimism as the program that Eddie Santiago has worked so tirelessly to build changes its address.
“We haven’t hosted a game since 2014,” said Santiago, who’s set to begin his fifth season as the football coach at Harding. “Everybody’s super excited and happy that we have a new home.”
The Presidents left their near century-old home on Central Avenue for a sparkling new building that sits just a stone’s throw away off Boston Avenue. The $107 million complex boasts a state-of-the-art athletic facility that the Presidents are itching to show off.
“It’s amazing. It’s beautiful,” senior quarterback Kevin Bednarz said. “I love the field itself. It’s just a great environment.”
John L. Lewis Memorial Field will debut Friday night at 7 o’clock when Harding takes on Amity.
“It’s definitely very new, fresh,” senior wide receiver Coleman Adams said. “We like the field. It’s just like a new safe haven for us.”
These certainly are new beginnings for the Presidents, who for the last three years had to trek across the city to Kennedy Stadium for home games. All the while, they continued to hold practices at Hedges Field.
— Harding Presidents (@WHHSPresidents) June 4, 2018
As the program’s longtime home, Hedges Field was steep in tradition but left plenty to be desired. The field itself was made up of mainly dirt and crab grass. Pot holes riddled the playing surface, and yardage lines were barely noticeable.
“There were a lot of pot holes,” Bednarz recalled. “The field itself, walking on Hedges, it hurt your bones to be out there. You’d have to watch those pot holes and bumps. They didn’t even have lines there to line up right. We were just pretty much winging it.”
It’s safe to say the Presidents are no longer saddled with such concerns.
“You can see the lines, you know where the numbers are, and you can see the hashes and certain areas where we’ve got to go that we took for granted,” Santiago said. “Many people take for granted having [a spot] where the extra point needs to be.
“Our fields weren’t aligned at Hedges.”
— Harding Presidents (@WHHSPresidents) August 17, 2018
They’ve practiced nearly a dozen times on their new field — a number that would be higher if not for the recent heat wave that has led to a string of early dismissals at not just Harding, but schools throughout Connecticut.
The new field, Santiago said, has ratcheted the enthusiasm up a few notches throughout the program. The Presidents have adopted a new motto — New School, New Field, Same Pride — and are setting their sights on contending.
“I feel confident in our team,” Bednarz said. “I feel like we’re strong and big. I feel like we’re going to surprise the state this year. We’re going to do a lot of big things starting [Friday].”
The Presidents went 3-7 last year — their first as a member of the SCC — with two of those wins against city rivals Bassick (57-0) and Central (39-12). Their first victory in the SCC was, indeed, a big one: 20-13 over Hillhouse, a program that was just 10 months removed from a state title.
Adams, a dual-threat who had 729 yards rushing, 633 yards receiving and scored 14 touchdowns last year, is eager to help Harding meet those lofty expectations. At their new home, of course.
“We get that first game, we’re home,” he said. “We get to start the first game fresh on a new field. I think the excitement’s going to be, wow.”