Editor's note: MHS athletic director Jeff Anderson invites the public to be in the stands by 6:50 p.m. Friday for a brief ceremony honoring the late Bob Kirgan, a member of the Mexico chain gang for 44 years. Members of his family will be on hand.
Ty Harrison won't be the only Mexico Bulldog making his first appearance in a starting role, so to speak, when he leads his football squad onto the field Friday night at Hawthorne Heights.
A number of Bulldogs will be seeing essentially their first varsity action ever when St. Joseph Lafayette comes to town for a 7 o'clock kickoff to start the 2012 campaign.
With four starters back on offense and three on defense, youth will be the name of the game this fall for Mexico, seeking to equal or even improve on last year's 5-5 record.
Harrison is no stranger to winning football, having played a key role in one successful season after another at Centralia before serving under Nick Hoth here last fall. But he's aware building solid programs can take time.
"Right now, it's a close call as to who is more excited about Game 1, my players or myself," he said Wednesday. "I'd have to say we're all collectively excited and looking forward to it.
"I've always wanted to be a head coach, that's always something I've wanted to do. It was just a matter of finding the right time and the right place. I really think this school and community has a lot to offer."
The fact Harrison was on the MHS staff last season made Hoth's departure after one season (due to family concerns) an easier adjustment in some ways, Hoth having stepped up to replace Devin Brown the year before. Harrison was named the 20th Bulldog head coach in late March.
"Taking over back then helped kind of jump start our spring weight room program, and we probably did more summer work than we've ever done here," he said. "After our jamboree last weekend, I told the guys all that summer work showed.
"I was pleased with how competitive we looked (against host School of the Osage and Sedalia Smith-Cotton)and I really hope that carries over into the regular season. I'm also hoping all our conditioning and strength work will help alleviate last year's injury problems."
Having all hands on deck for the next two months or so would benefit the Bulldogs as they take on another tough schedule of NCMC and non-conference opponents. An exchange of last year's game film plus this year's jamboree tapes convinces Harrison his opening foe can't be taken lightly, no matter how much of a toll a long bus ride takes on the Fighting Irish, who went 6-4 last year.
"St. Joe looks really big up front, so we're going to have to do a good job of blocking. A huge key will be how well we match up with them on the line," he said. "They've also got some good skill players who are pretty fast, so we'll have to get all 11 hats to the ball to contain their speed and get to the quarterback."
As far as Mexico is concerned, a balance between running and passing is one of Harrison's immediate goals. Directing the offense will be senior Matt Ridgway, among the few battle-tested Bulldogs they can boast of at the moment.
"Having Matt back there is a huge plus because he's had game experience when it really mattered," Harrison said.
Mexico's other home dates are Sept. 14 vs. Hannibal, Sept. 28 vs. Warrenton, Oct. 5 vs. Kirksville (homecoming) and Oct. 19 vs. Moberly before the start of the new state playoff plan. The Bulldogs visit California next weekend for another non-league contest.