Hendersonville – Hendersonville Bearcats seemingly are “playing possum” with their disappointing start to the new season. HHS lost 31-12 at North Henderson, then 44-0 at home to West Henderson. The last time Hendersonville started 0-2 versus intra-county rivals might have been when gasoline cost 18 cents per gallon. Also uncharacteristic is that 0-2 record, ahead of a game at East Henderson (0-2) on Friday.
The Cats won the Mountain Foothills Conference’s inaugural crown in fall 2021. They won two playoff rounds in each of the past two seasons. They were 10-2 then 9-3 overall, and 6-0 then 5-1 in the league in Kirron Ward’s debut as head coach. Chase (12-1) won the MFC over HHS. Both schools lost many stars.
Graduated are HHS skill stars Eric Rasheed, Lennard Benniefield, and all-state kicker Cooper King. Sophomore two-way standout Amir Albany sustained a season-ending concussion in the 2023 opener.
Coach Ward is molding a squad around sackmaster C.J. Landrum and two-time 1,000-yard rusher Hezzie Rudisill. Coach Ward, 39, a 2002 HHS grad, starred as a Bearcat lineman and tight end. “We have a lot to fix,” he said last Friday. HHS looked much sharper when scrimmaging Erwin, showing what it can do.
Hezzie Rudisill (5-10, 163 jr.) rushed for 1,064 yards and 16 touchdowns as a freshman, and 1,102 (7.3 YPC) and 13 TDs last year. “Hezzie is just Hezzie,” Ward said with a grin. “He’s natural at finding creases, and exploiting the speed of opposing defenses” by suddenly shifting directions with his 4.4-4.5 speed. His long run was a rare HHS highlight last Friday. Other runners include strong Todd “T.J.” Lattimore (6-0, 175 sr.) and Gianni Jacobs (6-0, 205 so.).
As new quarterback JaRon Ward (5-10, 190 fr.) develops greater consistency, the Cat offense should take off. Ward completed 10 of 13 passes in the opener, and threw two TD passes. Against West, he dashed up the middle for a first down. But a holding penalty negated the play. It was downhill after that for HHS.
“We don’t baby our younger players. We throw them to the wolves,” Coach Ward said of his son, among others. He said JaRon is “poised for a ninth-grader.” A key is for the quarterback to “keep his eyes downfield” for receivers getting open while moving out of the pocket, Coach Ward said. Yet he gives the QB a green light to readily run through gaps.
Ivey Harper (5-11, 170 jr.) was a reliable varsity backup QB in 2022. He is sidelined with an injury. Bale Pace (6-0, 157 so.) was shaky when in Friday.
Beast of Burden
Starting receivers are typically C.J. Landrum (6-3, 245 sr.), Lattimore, Ace Smith (5-6, 135 fr.), and Ford Pace (6-1, 160 jr.). “Beast” Landrum has tight end size, but usually lines up wide for huge mismatches. He is quick enough to double-teams. Landrum did that in the opener, when catching Ward’s passes for both Bearcat TDs. He got open up the middle, caught the ball at the 23, and beat three defenders to the end zone for a 36-yard score. His second TD was on a 14-yard fade route.
Landrum was second-team all-state on defense. He is a fourth-year starting defensive lineman, and a post hoopster. “C.J.’s a gamer,” Coach Ward said. “He wants to be great. He’s our hardest worker. He rises to the occasion. He’s also our vocal leader.”
Four starting blockers return. Third-year starter Colton Ballard (6-2, 280 jr.) is at center. Jackson Pace (6-2, 285 sr.) and Graham Painter (5-10, 218 jr.) are tackles. Guards are Matt Sparks (5-11, 220 sr.) and Bently Cornwell (5-7, 170 so.). “They have tremendous chemistry together,” Ward said. Their aggression is pivotal. As Ward said, “This is a nasty, physical game.”
Ward said that the 4-3 base defense is “really fast, even up front” with DEs Landrum and Rupert Lartey (6-3, 230 sr.) and DTs Omirion Barber (5-10, 235 jr.) and James Buford (6-3, 275 jr.). Landrum had ten sacks and 114 tackles in 2022. OLBs Lattimore and Rudisill are among other standouts. The defense needs to converge on ball carriers for a “party at the ball,” as Coach Ward puts it. Doing that is a step toward regaining Bearcat prowess.