It’s that time Cougar fans. Spring sports are winding down as baseball, soccer, and softball have concluded their 2019 season. Cougar tennis has Blair Medley still alive in the district tournament. Track has a handful of sectional qualifiers that still have some post-season remaining. Those sports ending means another is ready to fire up practice. Cougar football begins it’s annual spring practice today with a number of questions that need to be answered between now and fall.
One of the hottest questions as we head into spring is will we see a player emerge as the next Cougar signal caller? Right now rising sophomore Joseph Paul and rising freshman Hunter White are the two candidates to lead the Campbell County offense in 2019. Can one of these two young men make the job their own in spring and clear up the ever important QB rotation before fall practice starts in the second half of July? In the past it was clearly going to be Tuffy Shoupe, Ethan Jeffers then locked down the job, after Jeffers, Zach Rutherford was the guy, last season Landon Addington left no doubt that he was the Cougar starter. This year the position sees two young guys vying for the spot. Both had some game experience last year at the varsity level, albeit under extreme circumstances after the Addington injury vs Gibbs. Both have logged many snaps in the very successful Cougar JV program. Both have put in a lot of off-season work over winter and early spring. We will see how that translates to each as they each get their shot to claim the starting quarterback spot.
“This is the first year where we’ve not known who the quarterback was going to be as we headed into spring. This will be our first true competition at the position.” said Cougar head coach Justin Price. “Both Hunter and Joseph have great strengths and both have areas where they need to improve. It’s our job as a staff to help each be the best player they can be. We will pick our quarterback the same way we pick every position on the field. The guy that gives the team the best chance to win football games will be who we go with. It’s going to be fun to watch them progress this spring and see which one gives our program the best chance at successfully executing our offense going forward.”
Either QB will also need protection and the Cougars lost some skilled players there with the departures of several key players to graduation. Gone are Tyler Hamblin, Brandon Dison, Jordan Tolliver, and Zack Phillips. Those guys were stalwarts up front the past few years. “This is probably our biggest rebuilding job on the line since we’ve been here.” noted Price. “We lost a lot of really good and experienced offensive linemen to graduation. Right now you can pencil in Chaz Duvernay in the trenches. He’s strong and knows how to do his job up front. We are looking at a group of talented but younger players to stand in there with Chaz. We have to get them to understand their position, gain confidence and maximize their talent in spring. They have all the potential in the world. We just have to turn that potential into production.” To aid the young players who will be moving into significant playing time up front this season, expect Javan McCulley, the great Cougar defensive lineman, to play as much as needed on the OL. “Javan understands his role on this football team, and he is a player that we have confidence in putting out there for every snap of the game on both sides of the ball if we need him out there.” said Price of his senior star lineman. The Cougars also enter spring looking to fill out the coaching staff possibly with an OL/DL coach. According to Coach Price, plans are in the works to get the spot settled as fall practice starts but for now duties will be handled by current staff members, with LB coach Chris Honeycutt being the guy who will work with the OL. Honeycutt handled most OL coaching duties last season and did an excellent job.
Injuries to Christian Shouse and Preston Bowman pushed a lot of young players to the forefront in the Cougar passing game. Devlin Dukes, while a junior, was a first year player but an every game starter who truly emerged late in the year, becoming the most consistent Cougar wide out. Sophomores Cahron Williams and MaKyle Shepherd were also in the starting lineup for games last year and both had impact at the position as sophomores. Also dynamic Jacksboro product Aaron Ellison made strides towards varsity as a freshman last fall. Price was confident about his group of receivers. “We expect these guys and a few others to really take it to the next level in spring as competitors. They got playing time last season because of some injuries to our veterans and we expect them to take that experience into spring. We think they will be playmakers out there for us.”
At running back the Cougars bring back Dale Wiseman as a speedy back who started often last season. The Cougars lose bruising back Drew Jordan who has scored over 30 touchdowns in the last two seasons and also set the Cougar single game rushing record last fall against Karns during a 330+ yard, 5 touchdown performance in a Cougar victory A player to keep an eye on is C.J. Allen. “C.J has so much potential at running back. He works very hard to continually improve and he has a chip on his shoulder. In his case it’s a little different. Instead of a guy out there trying to prove people wrong about him, C.J wants to prove people right. He was a great player in middle school and arrived here with high expectations. He and Dale are both very capable backs and we really want them to compete hard this spring.” Price said of his running backs.
On defense the Cougars lose Eric Hopper, Drew Jordan, Preston Bowman, Dylan Ball, Jordan Tolliver, and Christian Shouse, among others. The returnees are very talented with Javan McCulley having All-Region if not All-State potential on the defensive front. The Cougars will look to spring to see who will emerge to make all those tackles we saw out of Drew Jordan the last few years. Top candidates are Daymon Seiber and Michael Brown, both are experienced rising juniors with a nose for the football as well as some younger guys. Price was excited about spring with some of the linebacker prospects the Cougars will field. “We have a mix of very good players we will be looking at this year. Daymon Seiber has had a great off-season and has transformed his body by increasing his muscle mass. As a senior the game is going to slow down for him and we expect big plays out of him. We will also look at Desmond Gilbert to really step up this spring. He has a great frame and is extremely athletic. The game will come to him with experience. We have a good group with older and younger guys that are very athletic to evaluate this spring.”
At defensive back the Cougars will miss the big plays of the aforementioned Bowman and Shouse, but they return Anthony Gaylor as a senior leader along with Cahron Williams and MaKyle Shepherd. The concern, noted CCHS defensive backs coach Cody Seiber is the safety position. “We need to find some guys to play safety in spring. It’s a position that’s key to our defense. Our safety is the QB of our defense. He calls out the coverage, gets the guys in position and just carries a lot of responsibility in our defense. We are probably going to move Cahron to safety in spring and give him run there instead of corner. We are also going to give C.J Allen playing time there.”
Along the defensive line Javan McCulley and Chaz Duverney are amazingly strong players who will hopefully lock down two spots. Coach Price mentioned Wyatt Sharp, Brennan Byrge, and the immense freshman Jaden White as being prime guys who can make a move in spring to get into the rotation. “At the end of the day with these linemen we are looking for the best 5 on the offense and best 3 on the defense. These guys will all have a shot this spring to get it done and get pointed towards fall camp in the right direction.”
Overall spring is a time of evaluation and growth. Coaches look to see what progress has been made or lost since the end of the prior season. A full off-season in the weight room will transform many young players and for older players, knowing now is their time will kick them into the next gear. Coach Price noted three areas he wanted to evaluate in spring. “I want to see where we are mentally. How we respond to not making the playoffs last season. It was the first time in years we hadn’t made it. How hungry are the guys to get back out there and set it right. I also want to see kids out there competing and see how they react to the competition for positions. How do they respond if they aren’t getting the starters role they wanted? We need to see these guys mentality towards being ready to step in when called upon. After all the injuries last season we quickly saw how important the next guy up was to the team. Finally, I’ll be looking to find what this team’s identity will be this year. What will their core values be when the lights come on? We, as coaches have to find ways each year to hide weaknesses and emphasize the positives of the team. Spring will be the start of work for the team in 2019 as well as the staff.”
The Cougars will have 10 days of practice, two scrimmages, and the annual Orange and Blue game over the next 20 days. Those events will hopefully provide the staff with the clarity they need to hit fall camp wide open once the dead period ends in July.