The Tigers enter 2012 looking for ways to make up the offense they lost in departed senior Rocky Hayes, now at Arkansas State, and Padgett brings passing and running possibilities to the job as Matt Norton’s replacement.
Just one thing for Padgett — staying healthy.
Just like his team, Padgett hopes he has used up all of his bad luck in time for his day to arrive.
“It’s very motivational for us, because we knew last year we should and could have been a lot better and should have won nine, possibly 10 games,” he said.
As it was, Cleburne County finished 2011 with a rare losing season, finishing 5-6 after losing a first-round playoff game to North Jackson, 35-28.
The game typified the season that was for Cleburne County and the offseason to come for Padgett.
North Jackson knocked Norton out of the game, but Padgett came on and played well enough to have the Tigers, the No. 4 seed in their region, deadlocked in a tie game. Then Padgett had to leave the game with a concussion.
“We finished the game by just snapping it to Rocky — go right, go left,” Cleburne County coach Michael Shortt said. “It’s all we could do.”
Hayes is gone. He signed with Arkansas State after earning all-state honors with 2,036 all-purpose yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior.
Shortt said Cleburne County will try to make up his yards by committee, with Trey Bolton and John Butler stepping in at tailback. Both have 4.6-second speed in the 40-yard dash.
There’s also Blake Turner, who returns at fullback and linebacker.
But Padgett is intriguing. He’s just a sophomore but saw action as a freshman in the playoffs. In baseball, he started at second base as a freshman, and he played travel ball with Oxford’s Excel Baseball Academy over the summer.
“He was playing with a lot of good athletes,” Shortt said. “He was playing in top-of-the-line tournaments, so just the competitiveness that he had to have to play some of the ball he’s played will help him to play quarterback here.”
He brings a dual threat to the quarterback position.
“He’s got a great arm,” Shortt said, “but the one difference that he has that we haven’t had is he gives us the opportunity to run. He’s also a good runner.
“Now, when we get in our two-back shotgun (formation), it’s actually three backs, because he can also run, and we haven’t had that threat in a while at quarterback.”
Cleburne County has it now … if Padgett can stay healthy.
There was the concussion in the playoff game. Then came travel baseball and a separated shoulder. A week later, he became one of three current Tigers to have his appendix removed.
“I was feeling pretty comfortable with spring training until all of that happened,” Padgett said. “I didn’t get the full summer I was expecting.
“It’s been a little tougher, having to step into this role, but I’m pretty confident. I’ve got some players around me to help me out.”
There’s also a lot of determination around him to avoid the heres and theres that kept 2011 from being a much better season.
There was the North Jackson game, where Cleburne County was in position to pull off an upset until both quarterbacks went down.
“We were tied with (region winner) Anniston at halftime, and we were ahead of (state runner-up) Oneonta at the half,” Shortt said. “You look at a season, we felt like we were just a play or two away here or there.
“… We’re playing Oneonta, and a ball bounces off a guy’s shoulder, and they catch it. We’ve got an interception, and, as we catch it, we fall backwards. It bounces off our chest and lands in their hands and falls in there for a touchdown.”
Padgett, who has experienced his own turns of bad luck, sees motivation in the heres and theres of 2011.
“We could have won every game, no question about that,” he said. “There’s been a lot of motivation in the weight room and the offseason.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.