Cottonwood QB

Cottonwood junior Austin McCardle returns as the Bears' starting quarterback for 2019.

A 10-20 record over the three years John Gilmore has been head coach at Cottonwood doesn’t necessarily reflect the progress that is being made.

“A lot of people look at success differently,” Gilmore said. “I have not had one kid have to go to summer school in the last two years. I’ve averaged about 47 at workouts all summer.

“They never quit. It doesn’t matter how bad we get beat, they keep fighting. And the next day when they come out to practice, they’ll come back and keep working. So yeah, I think we’ve come a long way in three years.”

Gilmore now hopes to see more positive results on the football field. Having eight returning starters on offense and six on defense certainly paints a brighter picture.

It appears the strength offensively is across the front, anchored by senior lineman Buddy Shelley, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 275 pounds.

“He’s one of the coolest guys I’ve ever coached,” Gilmore said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him flustered. He enjoys what he does and is one of the hardest workers in the weight room I’ve ever been around.

“He just squatted 610 when we maxed. He power-cleaned 295. He benched 405 and he loves it. He works as hard as anyone I’ve ever been around. Most of the time you get a weight (lifting) guy and it doesn’t translate to the field, but with him, it does.”

Other returners on the line are junior tackle Kaleb Hamilton (5-11, 175), sophomore center Ben Williams (5-10, 250), sophomore right guard Allen Jones (6-4, 260) and Shelley at left guard. Senior Landon Watkins (6-2, 230) and junior Blakely Smith (5-10, 195) are also vying for a starting job on the front.

“We’ve been pretty good there for three years,” Gilmore said. “Our line has been a strength and we have depth. That’s something about Cottonwood. When I decide to retire, they’re still going to have linemen for a while.”

Cottonwood has experience at quarterback in junior Austin McCardle, who is an outstanding passer. Gilmore would like to see him run more.

“He could run if he ever decided to do it,” Gilmore said. “We worked at it in the spring. If people figure out he can run, it’s going to help him with his throwing.

“I was at Eufaula for 18 years and I don’t know if we ever had a quarterback with the arm strength that he’s got. What he’s got to learn to do – and we’ve worked really hard – is throwing on time and quick release. The tools are as good as any I’ve ever coached. He’s got it.”

Among his targets is the coach’s son, Clayton Gilmore, who is a senior.

“He’s not real big, but if you throw it to him, he’s going to catch it,” Gilmore said. “He probably now is one of the top two fastest on the team. We’re going to depend on him a lot. Him and Micah Lewis (running back) are two kids on offense we’re going to depend on.”

Along with Lewis, juniors Jesse Cortez at fullback and Noah Chapel at running back are expected to be key contributors.

Defensively, Blakely Smith and Lewis return at linebacker, Shelley at tackle, Jones at defensive end and Landon Richardson and Gilmore in the secondary. Clint Hatcher is projected to start at safety, Cortez at linebacker, Trenton Cross at defensive end and Watkins on the line.

“Jesse Cortez (fullback/linebacker) moved to Cottonwood from Wicksburg and didn’t play last year,” Gilmore explained. “Noah Chapel (RB) has been around. He’s probably the strongest kid pound for pound on our team. When he wants to be, he is probably the fastest on our team. He hasn’t translated that to the field yet, but he’s getting better. If he could ever click, he would help us a lot.”

Gilmore likes the experience on the defensive front and talks about the talent of Jones.

“He’s a young kid, but when he wants to be, he’s pretty dang good,” Gilmore said. “You can’t block him. He wants to take breaks, but we’re working on that.

“I think our defense is a lot better just because we’re strong and we have more experience now there. I think we’ve got some players now that are going to do what we ask them to do now and not freelance on us.”

Hatcher is a newcomer on the football team that has loads of potential.

“Clint Hatcher is coming from basketball and I’ve been real excited about him,” Gilmore said. “He’s 6-5 and we’ve got him playing safety. I think the last time he had played football was seventh or eighth grade before I got there. He doesn’t mind hitting, either.”

McCardle is expected to handle the punting duties and Caleb Butler is the placekicker.

BEARS AT A GLANCE

>> Head coach: John Gilmore (4th year at Cottonwood and as a head coach, 10-20)

>> 2018 record: 5-5 overall, 3-4 in Class 2A, Region 2

>> 2018 results: Slocomb (W, 14-7); Abbeville # (L, 7-52); at Barbour County # (W, 35-20); at G.W. Long # (W, 28-13); at New Brockton (L, 10-42); Daleville # (L, 28-46); at Geneva County # (L, 7-40); at Houston County # (W, 42-33); Ariton # (played at Rehobeth as Cottonwood’s field was damaged by Hurricane Michael) (L, 28-47); Kinston (Played at Rehobeth as Cottonwood’s field was damaged by Hurricane Michael) (W, 35-6)

>> Points scored/per game: 234/23.4

>> Points allowed/per game: 306/30.6

>> Returning offensive starters (8): QB Austin McCardle (Jr., 5-10, 175); WR Clayton Gilmore (Sr., 6-0, 150); RB Micah Lewis (Sr., 5-11, 140); TE Trenton Cross (Jr., 5-10, 180); OL Kaleb Hamilton (Jr., 5-11, 175); OL Ben Williams (So., 5-10, 250); OL Buddy Shelley (Sr., 6-3, 275); OL Allen Jones (So., 6-4, 260)

>> Returning defensive starters (6): DT Buddy Shelley (Sr., 6-3, 275); DE Allen Jones (So., 6-4, 260); LB Micah Lewis (Sr., 5-11, 140); LB Blakely Smith (Jr., 5-10, 195); CB Clayton Gilmore (Sr., 6-0, 150); S Landon Richardson (Jr., 5-9, 130).

2019 Schedule

Aug. 30 at Slocomb

Sept. 6 at Abbeville #

Sept. 13 Barbour County #

Sept. 20 G.W. Long #

Sept. 27 New Brockton

Oct. 4 at Daleville #

Oct. 11 at Geneva County #

Oct. 18 Houston County #

Oct. 25 at Ariton #

Nov. 1 at Kinston

# Denotes region games

Follow Jon Johnson on Twitter @eaglesportsed

I've been sports editor of the Dothan Eagle since 1988.

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