South Charlotte

Myers Park seniors rely on heart, not size

Shaqore Harrington and Kennedy Barkley aren't that much to look at on the football field. Neither stands taller than 5-foot-7 or weighs more than 175 pounds.

The Myers Park senior football players have heard plenty about their size in their high school careers.

"I hear it to this day, 'You'll never be a DI (Division I) caliber player; you're not good enough,' " Barkley said. "I just take that as motivation and just strive."

Harrington, the Mustangs' starting running back, and Barkley, the team's leading wide receiver, haven't let their size or the naysayers stop them, helping to lead Myers Park to a 6-4 record this year and a 3-3 record in the Southwestern 4A.

"They're good boys; they're good citizens, good football players, good kids," said Myers Park coach Greg Taylor. "They work hard to get better. They perform, on Friday nights, everything you could ask for. They've done a really good job for us."

Harrington, 5-foot-5, 172 pounds, started on varsity his sophomore and junior years at Myers Park as a defensive back. When Mustang running back Deyonta Wright graduated last year, all of the back-up running backs started on defense. Harrington stood out as the best option.

"We thought Shaq was the best bet to go," Taylor said. "He's got good hands; he catches the ball well. He's real smart. He's team-oriented and selfless. He blocks well back there during protection, so he's done a really good job for us."

Harrington, 18, was looking forward to moving to the position and being an important part of the offense. Harrington leads the team with 725 yards on 116 carries and four touchdowns, with his biggest games coming against Butler (116 yards) and East Mecklenburg (100). In Myers Park's spread offense, Harrington doesn't always get a lot of carries, but he makes the most of them, averaging more than six yards per carry.

Harrington said being smaller than many other players has motivated him to work harder, especially in the weight room where he is one of the strongest players on the team. Harrington benches 350 pounds and squats 485.

"He's power," said Taylor. "He's compact and explosive. He's really strong. He's worked hard in the weight room every since I've been here and I'm sure before I got here, too."

Barkley, 5-foot-6, 150 pounds, makes up for his size with quickness. He wanted to be a running back as a freshman at West Charlotte, but the coaches moved him to wide receiver.

"I was always kind of quick," said Barkley, 17. "I was never really extremely fast but I was quick, so (the coaches) put me at slot receiver and started from there."

Redistricting brought Barkley to Myers Park as a sophomore where he was a backup. He moved into a starting role as a junior and is the team's top receiver this year, gaining 532 yards on 37 catches and three touchdowns. He had 106 yards in the team's second game of the season against Hough and 100 against North Mecklenburg. He has also played some defensive back this year, filling in for injured starters, and has three tackles and an interception.

Over the summer, Kennedy worked hard on his catching ability. Taylor said last year it seemed like he was fighting the ball when it came to him, but he's gotten better this year.

"Kennedy can fly," Taylor said. "He's kind of been the go-to guy most of the year, made some big plays for us."

Both players were confident in the team coming into the season. The Mustangs returned more than 30 seniors from last year.

"I thought we were going to go undefeated. I didn't think we were going to lose any games," said Barkley. "Everybody has something good to bring to the table, so I always thought the team was going to be successful as a whole. ... We all were coming back and we all know how each other plays and we know each other's weaknesses and tendencies. I just felt like we could go all the way."

Myers Park started 2-0 before losing to Olympic 10-9 in a rain-delayed game that started on a Friday and ended on a Tuesday. The Mustangs also lost their starting quarterback, junior Ross Jeffries, in the first game of the season. Sophomore Alex O'Brien came in and played well, leading the Mustangs to wins over Hough and North Meck.

The injury to Jeffries "really did hurt us but our sophomore quarterback, he stepped up for us ... in a big way," said Harrington.

Now, with Jeffries back, the Mustangs hope to finish the season strong and make the playoffs. Their conference losses have come to Butler and Ardrey Kell, but had a rivalry win over South Mecklenburg Oct. 14.

The Mustangs hosted Independence Friday for homecoming, where the school celebrated its 60th anniversary with a parade, pep rally and three former homecoming queens who crowned this year's queen. Myers Park lost 56-55 in overtime.

Barkley and Harrington both would like to play college football, but they haven't received any scholarship offers.

It doesn't seem to bother them, though, because they're used to being underestimated. It's what drives them.

"It motivates us because you always hear, 'You're too small for this; you're too small for that,' " Harrington said. "We always play with a chip on our shoulder."