Holding a football in one hand, Anthony Harding recently watched some of the younger running backs of the Pitman High football program go through a footwork drill. He watched them intently, seeing things that the casual observer wouldn’t notice.
When he wanted to make a point, he’d approach the kid and tell him how to do it better.
When he wanted to be clearer, Harding would put the football underneath his arm and demonstrate the correct running motion.
And he’s doing all this as a volunteer.
This wasn’t at a football camp. It was a few days before the Pride’s season opener against Modesto High last week. He’s around because he wants to be, and because he can’t help but give back to the program that provided him a stepping stone toward a football scholarship at Fresno State and a recent NFL tryout.
These days, he’s the Pride’s running backs coach.
“I can relate to them,” Harding said of this year’s Pitman players. “I’ve been through this program. I went on to a four-year college and had a little bit of success there. They know that about me and I respect their talents, too.”
When Harding offered to help out this season, Pitman coach Brandon Harris couldn’t refuse. Harris knew his players would gravitate toward Harding, who volunteered at the Westside Ministries Sports Camp even after having a standout junior season at Fresno State in 2008 by leading the Bulldogs with 822 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 147 carries.
But during his last college season, he had a much smaller role within a stable of talented rushers — including future San Diego Charger Ryan Mathews — with just 15 rushes.
But even so, Harding still was noticed by the NFL. The Green Bay Packers signed him as an undrafted free agent after this year’s NFL Draft. Harding said he made it through the training camps and learned the business side of the pro level, where players come and go.
Although he didn’t make the cut, he says he’s “a call away” from being in the NFL if a team decides to pick him up. But he’s not losing focus at his immediate task, which is teaching the Pitman players all the things he learned through college and his brief run at the NFL.
So far, he’s noticed that the Pride are deep with dangerous runners, such as Dominick Walker, Jaime Lemus, Andres Mendez and Alex Rodriguez. “They’re all good backs. They have different styles that’s going to help them be successful this year.”
After losing to Modesto on Aug. 27, the Pride look to redeem themselves at Antioch High on Friday night.
Harding, who graduated with Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2006, isn’t the only former Pitman player who’s giving back. This season, some of Harding’s former teammates are also on the coaching staff. Spencer Snodgrass, a former Cal State Stanislaus baseball player, is the freshmen linesmen coach, while former Occidental College star Jordan Inabnit is the wide receivers coach on the varsity squad. All three were all-conference players in their last high school year.
What does it mean to have all of them back?
“It means the world,” Harris said. “The best compliment I think we can get as a coach and as a program is when guys who went to college and did their thing come back here. I think it really shows that they respect the program and that we had some sort of positive influence because of the fact that they want to give back to the kids.”
To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail email@example.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.