MOULTRIE – Amid all the recent talk of Colquitt County High football milestones and records, one was overlooked.
When the Packers defeated Grayson High on Sept. 27, senior quarterback Jaycee Harden surpassed 4,000 career passing yards. His 4,242 yards going into Friday’s home game with Trinity Christian Academy of Jacksonville places him fifth all time in Colquitt County history.
When Harden recorded his second five-touchdown passes game of the season last Friday in the 52-0 blasting of Alcovy, he moved into third place all-time in that category with 45. It also raised his total for the 2019 season to 22 touchdown tosses in six games, which matched what he did in 15 games as a junior first-time full time starter in 2018.
The yardage total passing for this current campaign is 1,655.
“We’ve been working really hard,” said Harden after Wednesday’s practice, not wanting to take full credit for these statistics. “The Good Lord’s truly blessed me. I have great receivers. It’s not me; it’s them. They make plays every day when they come to work. I swear it’s the best core group. They have two great coaches (David Hill and Troy Hobbs). (Head) coach (Justin) Rogers understands they are playmakers, so get them the ball. They make me look really good.”
Harden’s name on those Colquitt County passing records lists is getting close to a former Packer who also had a plethora of talent surrounding him for two state championship seasons (2014-15). Chase Parrish holds about every passing record for games, seasons and career, and he did it with an up-and-coming QB at the middle school level watching.
“They used to call me up to come watch the games on the sidelines,” said Harden. “Chase is as humble as it gets. Great guy. He’s at the Naval Academy, and I heard he’s doing really well.”
Harden entered the main Packer program after Parrish’s graduation. As a freshman he saw action in one varsity game (2016), and in 2017 he backed up Steven Krajewski and also played in just one game. But in that game he threw his first career touchdown pass vs. Roswell at home.
“I remember when I was in 8th grade I told myself I’m going to do this, this is real,” said Harden. “It’s always been a dream. My dad used to be an assistant receivers coach when I was growing up. I used to be ball boy. I used to wear a Packer football jersey and pants to the games.”
What was said about Harden in the inner circles of Packer football was how committed he was to film study and preparation.
“I try to look at individual guys,” said Harden about studying opposing defenses. “You usually have two corners and two safeties on the field. I like to see where they are weak. Do they like to play over the top where I can throw the intermediate stuff? The hitches and curls. Just try to break down tendencies, see what they give me.
“Steven really taught me how to be big-time in the film. I learned a lot from the people before me. (Former offensive coordinator Jeff) Hammond was big-time on film.”
Perhaps the toughest thing for a veteran high school quarterback going into his final season is changes in the team leadership. Hammond earned his first head coaching job at Spalding High during the offseason, and Rogers became the new head coach from Jones County. Rogers also assumes the role of offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach.
“The new coaches are great,” said Harden about the transition. There is some continuity as Lee Caquelard is working full time on the varsity staff with the conclusion of the freshman season; Caquelard was Harden’s coach for freshman football.
“I really hit it off with him,” said Harden. “He’s as good a dude as it comes. Coach Rogers is a great guy. I wish the best for (Hammond).”
If there were any doubts about Harden being able to take over the biggest role in Packer football after the 2017 season, he cleared them away with stellar performances, sometimes without putting up big passing numbers himself. Case in point: he had few completions in Colquitt’s upset of Grayson at Grayson last season, but one was a 50-yard strike to set up a second-half touchdown.
A favorite moment has to be scoring his own touchdown as a receiver last year vs. Lowndes at home.
“I was getting beat up that game,” he said. “They hit me on my shoulder. I think coach Hammond said just put the nail in the coffin. He called a reverse trick pass, and Marvion McDonald was the back-up quarterback and threw it to me. We got a touchdown and nobody got a hit on him.”
So Harden has been in the fire, and he only has two losses as a starter. He is 2-0 vs. Grayson and wants that same record against two top 10 region rivals, Lowndes and Camden County. He said the rivalry with Camden is beginning to heat back up with their encounters from the summer.
“Ty Leggett (ex-Packer running back) told me the best quote I ever heard when it comes down to football,” said Harden. “Whenever it comes to big-time teams, he said those people are people like we are people. I try to keep that mentality. I don’t try to over-think big-time games. Go out there and take what we do all week long and put it on the field.
“I feel with our coaching staff and players, we will be ready for anybody who comes our way.”
Harden says his best friend is his dad, and at age 17 his father signed off for him to get a tattoo on the bicep area. It reads ‘Psalm 23.’
And there are people “flirting” with Harden, that being recruiters for college football. Though at the moment he has no solid offers, he said it’s mostly talk with Valdosta State, Charleston Southern and Kennesaw State.