On the upswing
Optimism on rebound after off season success
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
A habit of getting into the playoffs and competing for a state championship came to a screeching halt for the West Morgan Rebels last season when they lost four of their last five games and had to stay at home. They don't intend to let that happen again, according to head coach Pierre Coggins.
"It was a shock to the players to finish the season with a 5-5 record and not make the playoffs," he said. "It was the first time for that to happen in nine years. They won four of their first five games and had the momentum going their way.
"But after that the competition stiffened and they stopped improving. The result was four losses in the next five games."
It didn't take the Rebels long to put the 2004 season in the past and start looking to the future. They worked hard and came on strong in spring training and came up with a 24-6 win over the Priceville Bulldogs in a spring jamboree game.
"We had a great spring training program," Coggins said. "We'd lost a lot of seniors and needed a chance to get a close look the underclassmen who didn't play much last year as well as those moving up from the junior varsity.
"They really stepped up to the challenge. Plus, we had great participation and effort in our summer strength and conditioning program. And their enthusiasm and hard work has been carried over to preseason practice."
Coggins listed graduating seniors Byron Walton and Will Brewer as two of last season's players who will be greatly missed in 2005. Walton, an offensive guard and linebacker, is now a freshman scholarship player at The University of Alabama where he is competing for playing time at defensive end. Brewer was a standout runner and blocker at fullback after starting at offensive guard as a junior.
The Rebels have 47 players listed on their 2005 roster. Of that number, nine are seniors, 19 are juniors, eight are sophomores and the remainder are eighth and ninth graders.
The nucleus of the team consists of 11 returning starters, seven on offense and four on defense.
Offensive returning starters are Dan Seibert, senior wide receiver; Rod Goodlow, senior tight end; Brent Henslee, junior tackle; Jon Beason, junior guard; Jon Heid, senior center; Tommy Tucker, junior running back; and Jared Spooner, sophomore kicker.
With a year of experience under his belt, Tucker is being counted on to provide leadership for the defense.
Defensive returning starters are Blake Blacklidge, senior defensive back; Josh McAbee, sophomore defensive back; and Micah Randolph and Andrew Elliott, both junior linebackers.
Elliott is touted as a player with the ability to lead the defense.
A new starter who is being counted on to play a major role in the offense this season is junior quarterback Ricky Marshall.
"He was our backup last year and came on strong in the spring," said Coggins. "He's a good runner and also throws the ball well.
"We're expecting big things from him."
McAbee is expected to play an equally important role on offense, defense and special teams.
"He one of a few who has the ability and stamina to play every down of the game," Coggins said. "He started in the defensive secondary as a ninth grader and had a great year.
"We'll be putting a lot more on his shoulders this year by starting him on offense as well as using him on all of our special teams."
Spooner, a third year starter, will be featured in West Morgan's kicking game. He will take on the added responsibility of punting after making a name for himself as a place kicker. He booted game-winning field goals in two games as an eighth grader.
Heid and Beason, offensive starters at center and guard, respectively, are projected as team leaders.
Coggins said the strengths of the Rebels will be the running game, team speed, linebackers on defense and the kicking game.
Overall depth was considered to be a team weakness.
"We're going to be a relatively young team and our depth is not very good," Coggins said. "However, we do have some very talented players, especially at quarterback and running back.
"Our schedule is very demanding since we play in what I believe is the toughest region in 3A. Plus, our non-region games are very difficult. Hopefully, we'll be able to compete against everyone but we must stay injury-free to do well."
He added that preseason practice sessions will put a lot of emphasis on conditioning, special teams and fundamentals.
"What we need most in the preseason is for some of our young kids to step up and begin to contribute as varsity players," he said.
Coggins is entering his fourth year as West Morgan's head coach. He holds a record of 26 wins against only eight losses.
Assisting Coggins with coaching duties are Rod Lovett, defensive coordinator; Shannon Shaw, defensive backs and offensive line; and Glenn Bryant, defensive line and wide receivers.
The Rebels will open their season at home against East Lawrence Aug. 25. Other home games will be against Sheffield, Elkmont, Madison Academy and Lineville. They'll play Colbert County, Rogers, East Limestone, West Limestone and Lauderdale County on the road this season.