While there might have been a hint of doom and gloom outside of White Castle’s football program, senior fullback-outside linebacker Harold Zachary was always a beacon of hope.

Given the youthful makeup of the Bulldogs this season, a group with only five seniors, some of the skepticism might have been well-founded but never in the eyes of Zachary, the team’s lone three-year senior starter.

“I wasn’t that worried,” Zachary said. “I knew we had some younger guys who would learn and mature and get better as the season went on. They just had to listen and mature.”

More specifically, listening to Zachary and following his lead have proven to be immeasurable in a season of growth that’s witnessed No. 8 White Castle (8-3) reaching the Class 1A state quarterfinals. The Bulldogs travel to face No. 1 seed and reigning state champion Mangham (11-0) on Friday.

“Not only from a leadership standpoint has he helped this team develop but also with the way he plays,” White Castle coach Lamar Thomas said. “Zach’s been an integral part of this team by being a good leader for the younger kids. He’s been positive with them, helped with their techniques and made sure they’re lined up properly.”

Zachary has become the focal point of White Castle’s defense the past two seasons at strong safety/outside linebacker, earning the trust of the coaching staff to translate their signals and get everyone in their correct positions each play.

It’s certainly not a responsibility Zachary has taken lightly.

“I really learned it last year, and now I have it down pat,” said Zachary, a first-team All-District 8-1A selection in 2013. “I like getting everyone lined up.

“I already know what to do. I’m making sure the guys around me know what they have to do. I like to lead by example, but when I’m on the field I’ll talk, get everyone together and get them ready to play.”

That’s also been present on the White Castle offense, a big-play unite that features one of the state’s leading rushers in junior Dontrell Taylor.

While Taylor may be the face of that group with close to 2,000 yards this season, the contributions of Zachary — a 5-foot-8, 167-pound fullback — have never been ignored.

“He’s responsible for making a key block whether it’s an inside run or outside on our sweeps,” Thomas said. “He’s also a big part of our passing game with his pass protection. What he does offensively can’t really be measured in stats. The running backs or quarterback wouldn’t have the numbers they have if it wasn’t for a guy like him making the blocks he’s made.”

Zachary said his dedication to the weight room the past two years — where he earned “Iron Bulldog” honors for perfect attendance and weight lifted — has enabled him to compensate at a position such as fullback that’s generally identified with much larger players.

Not only has Zachary has embraced one of the least glamorous spots to play but he’s embraced the unselfish persona that’s gone along with springing Taylor for a long gain or touchdown run by any of his teammates.

“I knew this was my last year, and I had to give it my all,” Zachary said. “I just had to work hard. I knew it wouldn’t be given to me, so I had to go get it.

“I thought the season could have gone a little better, but we’re in the third round of the playoffs. Hopefully, we can go to Mangham and get the win and just keep on going.”