CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The standing joke around Nitro is that fans and observers are surprised to see one of the Wildcats' best young players be a product of Andrew Jackson Middle School - Nitro's feeder school.
While transfers, freshmen from other districts, as well as home-grown players, have helped Coach Steve Pritchard's team win six consecutive Region 4 championships (2007-12), the future of the Wildcats will come from an Andrew Jackson player.
Matt Harrison, built like a senior with leadership qualities that belie his age, has been named the Daily Mail's 2013 Kanawha Valley Freshman of the Year.
Harrison is the third Nitro player since 2005 and fourth overall, starting with J.R. House (1996), to be named top freshman. Others who have won are Chase Pickering (2005) - an Andrew Jackson player - and J.R. Bradley (2007).
Although this is the first time since 2006 that Nitro has not reached the State Tournament, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Harrison will lead the Wildcats into what he hopes is the start of another string of appearances in 2014.
"You kind of expect to get there," Harrison said. "I expected it, but you have to play it one game at a time and work hard and prepare for it."
Nitro fell short, losing games to St. Albans and Logan in the double-elimination sectionals in watching its season end.
Pritchard said there he wanted players who would listen and lead. Harrison expanded on Pritchard's sentiment.
"I think he'll depend more on people who lead," Harrison said. "I don't think we had very many leaders this year. I can lead."