Coach Harrison: little things matter

Coach Ray Harrison stands in front of the trophy case he is hoping to add more trophies to. (Staff photo by Christian Phillips)


Any sports team that is competitive every season can usually trace its success back to a single person. That person is responsible for creating a winning culture that is bigger than any individual.

For the Hillside High School football program, that person is Ray Harrison, and after eight years of coaching high school football in Ohio, he is back on the sideline for the Hornets to continue what he started.

“We want to make sure our program continues in the right direction,” said Harrison. “It’s been trending up for the last 10 years. We want the winning tradition at Hillside. It’s been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get this program on the right track, and being a good football program, not just a team, or a good season.”

When Harrison, originally from Norlina in Warren County, took over in 2004, he was trying to revive a program that had been struggling. In his first two seasons the team won a total of six games. After a 3-2 start to the 2006 season, the switch finally flipped for his team, and they won seven consecutive games before losing to Fuquay-Varina in the second round of the playoffs. They would improve each of the next two years, making it all the way to the regional final in 2008.

Following that season, Harrison would step down from his head coaching position to move to Ohio with his family. Hillside alum Antonio King took over and led the Hornets to a state championship.

A year ago, Harrison returned to Hillside as an assistant principle, only wanting to return to the place he now considers home. However, when King announced this year that he would be leaving to become the offensive coordinator at East Carolina, Harrison decided to throw his name back in the hat.

“It didn’t even cross my mind. I was thinking Coach King would be here forever,” he said. “He’s an alumnus of Hillside, but when that opportunity knocked at his door, I knew he couldn’t turn it down.”

Harrison’s on-the-field goals for his team this season are “to win Durham”, win a conference championship and to make a deep run in the state playoffs. However, those are not the most important goals to him. He also wants to have a 100 percent graduation rate, and for all of his players to qualify to go to college.

Harrison wants all of his players to learn what he did- the little things matter- a lesson learned after five years in the Air Force working on weapons systems for B-52 bombers. For them to achieve their larger goals, they must start small and do their best at every step along the way. That everything will not always come easy for them, and they must persevere in order to achieve what they want out of life.

“I want them to understand that things aren’t always going to go your way. You’ve got to keep pushing, and keep pushing and keep pushing,” he said. “Life may throw you a curve ball. You’ve just got to understand, you’ve got to look at it, and you’ve got to knock it out of the park.”

His desire to produce young men who are positive influences for their community, is starting to be felt around the school. Offensive Coordinator Davian Harris, who is in his fourth year teaching at the school, is seeing positive results from the head coach’s message, and knows that Harrison will not stop until he completes his mission.

“Coach Harrison’s passion for developing young men is going to change the culture of Hillside High School. His vision for developing the young men at Hillside High School, and the young men in this community, is true to his word,” he said. “He said he’s going to do it, and he’s going to do it.”

Harrison wants to continue to foster a family atmosphere around the program. He wants the players feel they have a safe place where they always have someone to talk to, and the players are responding well.

“I feel it a lot. We don’t even consider ourselves teammates, we’re more like brothers,” said David Madzivanyika, a sophomore defensive end on the team. “You can talk to anyone on our team.”