Hunter Harrison has had to mine the depths of his soul to decide whether he wanted to persevere through ACL tears in both knees to continue playing his beloved sport of football.
“There were some doctor’s appointments where it wasn’t all fun and games,” recalls the 6-foot, 210-pound linebacker and defensive end for University City’s varsity, of the last three years.
But Harrison, a team captain, isn’t sitting around, stewing in his brew. He wants to go out and get it, just like his fellow captains, Gunnar Gray and Matthew Lising. They’re part of a renewed effort to rebuild the Centurions’ program, which graduated a large number of seniors from last year’s squad.
“We’re a young team,” says Gray, the 6-foot-4-inch senior quarterback who has started since his sophomore year. “More and more, there are guys staying after practice to get extra reps,” points out Lising, an earnest two-way player at free safety and wide receiver.
Head coach Ryan Price, in his fifth year helming the UCHS program, agrees it takes a while to fully establish a system that never existed before he showed up in 2015. “People think you just change a mentality and a culture in a short time,” says the burly Price, who serves as a walk-on coach. “This is our first down year since I’ve been here. Guys are already gearing up for next year because they don’t want to go through another season like this one.”
Early on, the Centurions, who graduated All-CIF receiver Casey Granfors and 21 other seniors from 2018, sustained losses of 58-12 to Bishop’s and 61-26 to Mater Dei Catholic, sandwiched around a gutsy 27-26 win at Mission Bay. “We didn’t start out the way we wanted,” acknowledges Gray, who helped achieve a highly successful 10-2 record as recently as two years ago. Last year, UC finished at 5-7 after an up-and-down season.
Harrison, embodying the grit of UC football, experienced the heights of scoring his first touchdown ever on the freshman team, then a short time later succumbing to the right-knee injury. “I’d never had a TD before,” Hunter says, in all his years in youth football with the Clairemont Hawks. What a feeling.
Then, having rehabbed after ACL surgery, fast-forward to homecoming against Morse his junior year in 2018. “On the sixth play of the game, I tore my left ACL. It was another nine months of recovery.”
But, even with lingering pain, he’s here to stay, and he’s helping build through this year of growth and learning for the younger members of the Centurion contingent. “We’ve seen improvement in every practice,” he asserts. His presence, calm, almost preternatural, reflects plumbing those depths during long periods of being forced to watch from the sidelines. “I went to every game, every practice. I’d never had an injury before [the first ACL tear three years ago].”
Lising describes preseason team-building in a camp-over at Campland, De Anza Cove, during which “people got really vulnerable. They shared about family members who had passed on. We were able to connect.”