Though he is in his first year as head football coach at New Brockton, Zack Holmes knows about the Gamecocks’ recent history – five straight state playoff seasons, but only one postseason win that came three seasons ago (2016).
That is a fact Holmes, along New Brockton team leaders, hope to adjust this season.
“ This group has been around and has been part of teams that have been in the playoffs every year, but they really want to win a playoff game,” Holmes said. “Our leadership council and the seniors have talked about that.”
With that as the goal, Holmes told the Gamecock players that they had to put in some serious work to get it accomplished. So far, he says they have put in that work.
“ I told them that if we are going to do something that you haven’t done in a long time, we have to do some things you haven’t been doing,” Holmes said. “The level of the work has to go up and they have taken that and run with it.
“ We have guys that stay after (practice) every single day and get in a little extra work, whether it is snappers or the quarterbacks and wide receivers or defensive guys working out. They are taking on that blue-collar mentality, which is good.”
Holmes, who was special teams’ coordinator at Enterprise last season and had previous experience as Eufaula’s defensive coordinator and as a head coach at Sumiton Christian, takes over a Gamecock program that finished 6-5 last year with a first-round state playoff loss to Leroy.
“ We have some talented football players,” Holmes said. “One thing we are doing is that some guys who have never played on the other side are (playing on that side). Some guys that have played only on offense are playing some on defense and some guys that were playing defense, we are playing on offense.”
One position he didn’t have to make a change was at quarterback where sophomore Kaden Cupp returns. After a shaky start a year ago, the 5-foot-11, 155-pounder blossomed, eventually throwing for 1,774 yards and 18 touchdowns. The yardage total is believed to be a New Brockton school record.
“ First of all, he has a live arm, a really good arm and he can run, too, which causes a problem for a defense,” Holmes said. “The thing to me that is most exciting about Kaden is that he is hungry and he is a perfectionist in what he does. When it comes to coaching him – me and the quarterback coach – we don’t really have to get on him about his throws. We have to be a big supporter because he is his own worst critic.
“ He has the physical gifts, but he also has the drive in him to be great.”
Holmes adds of his QB, “I have to remind myself on a daily basis that he is only 15 years old.”
Another solid area is at tight end where veteran Russell Weeks returns. Last year, Weeks caught 28 passes for 416 yards and six TDs, while also earning 52 pancakes blocking. He was also the team’s punter, holding a 38.6 average on 27 punts with five downed inside the 10 to earn Class 2A all-state honors at the position for a second straight season.
“ Russell is a special player,” Holmes said. “He is 6-3 and weighed in yesterday (July 25) at 232 pounds, so obviously he is an imposing body on the football field. He tracks and catches the ball as well as anybody. He also blocks his tail off.
“ What people lose is the type of guy and person he is. Russell is an outstanding person and works his butt off every single day. He does a great job in the locker room, leading guys and holding guys accountable.”
The Gamecocks, who return eight starters on offense, have plenty of skill players back in addition to Cupp and Weeks. Kyan Horne (Sr., 6-0, 205) and Clay Reynolds (Jr. 5-11, 190) return as the running back and fullback, while Colton Marsh (Jr., 6-0, 170) and Kaden Hood (Sr., 6-0, 160) return as wide receivers.
Marsh was a big-play asset last year, catching 34 passes for 578 yards with six touchdowns and also returning a punt for a score. Holmes calls Reynolds “the unsung hero” of the team, describing him as the “lynchpin that makes everything work.”
Jamarcus Brown (So., 5-9, 170) is also expected to work in the mix in the backfield for New Brockton and Ryder Tetreault (Sr., 6-0, 165) is another key player at wide receiver.
The offensive line returns a pair of starters in seniors Cody Murphy (6-0, 210) and Michael Holder (6-2, 310). Jake Holloway (Sr., 6-2, 235) is moving from linebacker to offensive line.
Defensively, the Gamecocks return five starters, including senior linemen Brandon McCoy (6-0, 215) and Josh Cardwell (5-11, 220).
“ On the defensive line, we have a lot of guys that can play there and we are trying to figure out who fits,” Holmes said. “A guy who has been a pleasant surprise who hasn’t played football in a while at New Brockton, but is coming back for his senior year is Wanya McMillan (Sr., 6-2, 280). He will good for us.”
Drew Cashin (So., 5-10, 205) is a returning starting linebacker and will be joined in the rotation by Julian Noble (Jr., 6-0,210) and Matthew Speigner (Sr., 6-3, 200), the latter one “has come out of nowhere” with a “great summer,” said Holmes.
The defensive backfield returns CJ Wilkerson (So., 5-7, 165) and Marsh at defensive back, though Marsh also plays as safety, especially down in the box. De’Shawn McLeod (6-0, 150) and Tetreault will also see playing time in the secondary.
Hood is expected to start at safety.
“ Hood is as fast as any safety I have had, whether it was at Eufaula or at other places,” Holmes said.
McCoy will handle kicking duties with Weeks doing the punting. Holloway will be the long snapper and Marsh will hold for the extra points and field goals.
“ My goal is for them to reach their full potential and for us to not leave any meat left on the bone when we get done playing this year – that we have done everything in our capabilities,” Holmes said.
The Gamecocks, like they did a year ago, open with a gauntlet, playing Class 3A state semifinalist Providence Christian, 1A power Brantley and 2A state runner-up Luverne in the first three games.
GAMECOCKS AT A GLANCE
>> Head coach: Zack Holmes (1st year at New Brockton; 3rd year as a head coach, 6-12)
>> 2018 record: 6-5 overall, 5-2 in Class 2A, Region 3, first round of Class 2A state playoffs
>> 2018 results: at Providence Christian (L, 10-35); Brantley (L, 16-34); at Luverne # (L, 7-48); Central (Hayneville) # (W, 46-6); Goshen # (W, 28-21); Cottonwood (W, 42-10); Calhoun # (W, 54-0); at Samson # (Moved to Nov. 2 by Hurricane Michael); at Highland Home # (L, 14-27); Zion Chapel # (W, 48-6); Samson (make-up of Oct. 12 cancellation) # (W, 34-6). STATE PLAYOFFS: at Leroy (L, 14-42)
>> Points scored/per game: 313/28.5
>> Points allowed/per game: 235/21.4
>> Returning offensive starters (8): QB Kaden Cupp (So., 5-11, 155); RB Kyan Horne (Sr., 6-0, 205); FB Clay Reynolds (Jr., 5-11, 190); WR Colton Marsh (Jr., 6-0, 170); WR Kaden Hood (Sr., 6-0, 160); OL Michael Holder (Sr., 6-2, 310); OL Cody Murphy (Sr., 6-0, 210); TE Russell Weeks (Sr., 6-4, 225);
>> Returning defensive starters (5): DL Josh Cardwell (Sr., 6-1, 220); DL Brandon McCoy (Sr., 6-0, 215); LB Andrew Cashin (So., 5-10, 205); DB C.J. Wilkerson (So., 5-7, 165); DB Colton Marsh (Jr., 6-0, 170)
Aug. 23 Providence Christian
Aug. 30 at Brantley
Sept. 6 Luverne #
Sept. 13 Central Hayneville #
Sept. 20 at Goshen #
Sept. 27 at Cottonwood
Oct. 4 at Calhoun #
Oct. 11 off
Oct. 18 Highland Home #
Oct. 25 at Zion Chapel #
Oct. 31 (Thu) Samson #
# Denotes region contest