TAMPA – It’s been 17 years since the Leto Falcons punched a ticket to the postseason, but rising senior safety Kaleb Harding thinks that will change this year. Harding says the team is motivated and conditioning harder than ever.
At 5’11”, 182 lbs., Harding made the move to safety midway through his sophomore season after playing cornerback between JV and varsity. The switch paid dividends for him and the Falcons as he racked up 54 total tackles (33 solo), three pass breakups, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and a sack in only seven games.
Fully recovered from a back injury suffered against Blake on Oct. 9, Harding says his back feels stronger than last year.
Regarding his move to safety and impact for this defense, he had this to say.
“My skillset was better for safety. I’m a physical guy, ” Harding told Prep Sports Scouting. “At corner it is harder to play against the run. Putting me back to safety was better for the team. I love it so much because I like to go downhill.”
Starting his football life at age 8, Harding began as a right guard but moved to cornerback two years later. He played soccer his freshman year at Leto and ran track as a junior. He plans to participate on the football, soccer and track teams as a senior.
In terms of his confidence, he pointed to the kickoff classic against Southeast this past season.
“It was the very first defensive series and I felt it in my gut that they were going to try me on the first play. They threw a pass to the receiver that I was covering and I came in and smashed him. I looked over at my coach and was like “oh yeah, this is it'”
Sixth-year head coach Matt Kitchie has had a hard time with this program posting a 1-48 record over the past five years. The last winning record and playoff appearance for the Falcons came in 1999 when head coach Andy Martin led them to a 9-4 record and a region final showing. Despite all that, Harding says this year there is a different feel with the current group.
“We have big chips on our shoulders. This year you have to outwork everyone to win. That’s our mindset every day in practice. We’ve never conditioned this hard before. It’s a different feel. Everything is very detailed oriented.”
Leto fell to Blake in the spring jamboree on May 19, 20-0, but Harding says that game is something to build off of, especially defensively.
“We figured out what we are good at. It’s a matter of plugging in the pieces where they need to go. We have a lot of talent now.”
Harding pointed to the players that came before him as the reason why the team has struggled. He says they were “me guys” and now they have a collective unit that’s all about gelling together.
The three teams that Harding says he believes that are in Leto’s way are Plant, Jesuit and Sickles. The Falcons travel to Jesuit in Week 3 and then to Plant a week later before hosting Sickles two weeks later. Being mentally tough is what is most important in those trio of matchups, Harding says.
Getting back into the playoffs is something that Harding believes is a realistic possibility this season.
“It would be the greatest thing ever,” he said about making the playoffs in his senior year. “We have the skills. We have two good quarterbacks (Chase Kessler, Dalton Morley) and a strong defense. I like our pass rushers, cornerbacks and linebacking core. I think it’s a possibility.”
Playing for coach Kitchie is something Harding calls a challenge since he’s a tough, critical and detailed oriented guy, but Harding says he’s a great man who he appreciates a lot.
As for his strengths as a player, Harding alluded to his mental focus, physicality and downhill ability. He’s working hard this summer to improve his ball skills.
No offers have come his way yet, but Harding has drawn interest from Johnson & Wales and San Diego State. He plans on attending camps at South Florida and Florida here in the next few weeks.
Harding’s ultimate goal is to be able to enjoy football for as long as he can. He plans to study sports medicine in college.
“Maybe play in college, maybe coach. I just know I want to have it in my life for as long as possible. If it takes me somewhere then it does, if it doesn’t then it doesn’t.”
This kid could easily be down like most would be due to the struggles Leto has had over for awhile now. However, he’s determined and ready to prove that the Falcons are just as a good as everybody else in Class 7A.
Kaleb Harding is a solid piece to this defense as a hard hitting safety. As long as he can stay healthy then he’ll have a nice senior campaign. More teams need to give him attention, Harding isn’t afraid to put his body on the line to make a play.
Favorite players to watch – Josh Norman, Doug Martin, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Tyrann Mathieu
Playlist before games – Kodak Black, Lil Uzi Vert
Favorite movies – The Blindside, Fast and Furious 2
Favorite TV show – ESPN
Fun fact about you that no one knows – “I’m actually shy in that I don’t like to talk. I’m more of a show and tell type of person.”
Nickname(s) from teammates or friends – “KK”, “K”
Game film: Harding’s Hudl tape
Jake Perper is the scout for Prep Sports Scouting. Make sure to follow along for all the updates on Twitter: @JakePerper.
If you have any questions or comments feel free to write below or email Jake at email@example.com.