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Cochran trying to breathe life into downtrodden Harding William S. Paxton Published 5:12 pm, Saturday, September 7, 2013 View: Larger | Hide Harding High School's new football coach Jack Cochran watches the action during their scrimmage with Naugatuck Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013 at the school in Bridgeport, Conn. Photo: Autumn Driscoll | Buy This Photo Harding High School's new football coach Jack Cochran watches the... Harding High School's new football coach Jack Cochran talks to a player during their scrimmage with Naugatuck Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013 at the school in Bridgeport, Conn. Photo: Autumn Driscoll | Buy This Photo Harding High School's new football coach Jack Cochran talks to a... Harding High School's new football coach Jack Cochran watches the action during their scrimmage with Naugatuck Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013 at the school in Bridgeport, Conn. Photo: Autumn Driscoll | Buy This Photo Harding High School's new football coach Jack Cochran watches the... Harding High School's new football coach Jack Cochran talks to a player during their scrimmage with Naugatuck Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013 at the school in Bridgeport, Conn. Photo: Autumn Driscoll | Buy This Photo Harding High School's new football coach Jack Cochran talks to a...
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rolex watch BRIDGEPORT -- On a good day, practice starts with a pep talk on the thinning green-grassed, bare-patched football field, with sun-faded yellow goal posts at each end.
rolex Some days, the field's not available at the start of workouts, so Jack Cochran has to address the team -- leaning against a chain-linked fence -- from the cracked parking lot, raising his voice to cut through the traffic whizzing by on Boston Avenue. The parking lot is wedged near the field and a decrepit bleacher section, which the Harding football team hopes to fill again one day.
rolex submariner replica "We had to meet in the parking lot this weekend, it was sad," says the head coach, who has a reputation for piling up wins and ruffling feathers along the way, and was hired to resurrect the Presidents.
It's about as sad as the state of the Harding football team, which has not fielded a winner since 1996. When your program posts a 9-91 record over the past 10 years, it's hard to hold your heads high and receive respect from others.
The Presidents are now just fighting to earn a little respect at their own school.
"The hardest thing here is the outside stuff," Cochran says. "Getting the use of the building; right now we can't use the building. Getting the field in shape, as you can see, it's a struggle.
"Just getting a place to meet, a place to watch film, stuff that's outside of the kids' control and my control -- that's been the toughest thing to deal with."
A tougher situation than Cochran ever faced in previous stops at Bloomfield, New Britain and New London high schools, where he compiled a combined 160-24-2 record with eight state titles in 14 championship game appearances.
"We still have kids running around here without helmets and shoulder pads," Cochran says. "We are still looking for donations. I mean, that's the hardest thing. I never had to turn a kid away because we didn't have equipment -- that's pretty tough.
"In that aspect, just getting equipment, building a weight room, getting helmets, getting shoulder pads, getting girdles, it's just been a struggle to get the kids outfitted. It's not the kids, the kids have done everything I've asked. They come every day. It's just you can't do much when you can't get inside your high school."
Other schools, even teams on the Presidents' schedule, have pitched in, trying to help Cochran succeed at a place where success seems impossible.
"I helped him out with some football equipment," Ridgefield coach Kevin Callahan said. "And I'll be happy to help him until the Harding program gets good. I taught in Bridgeport schools for 16 years. I want to see Harding football get good, except in Week 6 when we play them."
The players have been the easiest part for the head coach, who looked high and low for bodies to try out for football this summer as long as "they were in our district."
"We really had to hit the bushes and get some kids," Cochran says. "I got the job after school was over, everything went kind of late, but I got a great coaching staff and we got a good group of kids. Everyone is here and it's a good group."
While the coaching staff has gone talent hunting, the best endorsements for the program came from the Harding locker room.
"I started to ask people to come and they came," says senior running back/defensive end D.J. Smith . "Then they started to ask people, helped get the word out, and we started getting more people."
Junior Juan Rodriguez was a former President who quit last season because he didn't like the head coach. When he caught wind things were different at the school this summer, he returned.
"To be honest, I didn't know (Cochran) was the coach, but I came back once I heard there were going to be football tryouts," says Rodriguez, a tight end/linebacker. "And then I heard he was there and I got real psyched."
After having just six players show up for the first workout, that number quickly grew to about the mid-60s, including the freshman team. Not everyone wanted to put in the time, though, and Cochran estimates his numbers are in the mid-40s going into the season.
"We are getting there," he says. "It's a lot of work, a lot of new initiatives, you know everything is new, but the kids are getting better every day."
For the most part, nobody donning a Harding uniform knows much about Cochran's past glory and missteps -- he has battled school administrations and CIAC officials at past stops. They don't really care, either, because after just a few weeks of practice, they are excited to have him there.
"Right now things are going really good because we have a better coach," Smith says. "He is showing us different stuff, new things, better plays and better ways to do stuff."
In addition to helping the players learn the game, Cochran has backed up what he has told them, even with something as simple as getting new football T-shirts.
"He's someone I can count on," Rodriguez says. "It's been better for us that he's here. He's done a lot for us. Right now, we are confident and learning a lot of stuff."
A few weeks of practice in a new system might have the players feeling good, but the Presidents still have a lot of work to do before hosting Law in the season opener Wednesday at Kennedy Stadium at 6.
"Right now, we still haven't set a depth chart, we still don't have a starting group," Cochran says, about a week before the opener. "It still hasn't been consistent yet, but it's getting there."
The question is will it get far enough for the Presidents to end a three-season long losing streak?
"I was like, `Whoa, we are going to win a lot of games this year,'" Smith says about his first impression of Cochran, whose teams' success was believed to lead to the adoption of the CIAC's 50-point rule. "I think people are more excited.
"I feel pretty good about them. I can't wait for the season."
If there is hype about the program, Cochran is not getting caught up in it. Most coaches have tunnel vision when it comes to the season, and he's no different.
"Honestly, I don't read the newspaper, I don't listen to the radio and I don't watch TV, so I have just been working," he says." I haven't heard any of it. I'm sure it's out there, but I haven't heard it."
As far as expectations, the head coach isn't talking about that either.
"It's tough when you haven't won a game in three years," he says. "It's tough. You just have to keep their confidence up and their success up and hopefully, we start out on the right track."
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Cochran trying to breathe life into downtrodden Harding
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