Just four starters return on offense and two on defense – but one of the two will move to offense this year.
The good news for Cedar Bluff fans is, as head football coach Jonathan McWhorter puts it, “By no means is the cupboard bare.”
“We were fortunate enough to be able to play a good many of the freshmen we had last year who are sophomores this year,” McWhorter said Wednesday, recalling that just two members of the current senior class and three members of the current junior class played last year. “Because of that, this year’s sophomores got a lot of playing time.”
Entering Thursday night’s fall jamboree action at Sand Rock against Fyffe and Saks, McWhorter was still evaluating where his younger players would fit best around their older, and sometimes more experienced, teammates.
The most experience returns along the offensive line. Greg Leach, one of the two seniors who played last year, returns at left tackle. Back at right guard is junior Jake Mintz. Sophomore Wesley Richardson, who started and played well in 2012 as a freshman, returns at right tackle. Leach and Mintz each stand 6-foot-3 and weigh 240 pounds. Richardson is 6-1 and 220. The starter at center will be senior Austin Ball (5-8, 230). Ball started 12 games at center in 2011 but did not play last year.
McWhorter said he expects the offensive line “to be a strong suit for us.”
The fourth returning starter on offense is junior tailback D’Shawn Fife (5-10, 175). Fife was the No. 3 tailback when the 2012 season opened. Injuries in Week 2 and Week 3 moved him to the starting role and he responded by rushing for 1,200 yards as the Tigers went 9-0 in the regular season and 1-1 in the playoffs.
At quarterback will be senior Dalton Cosby. At 6-0 and 205 pounds, McWhorter calls Cosby a prototypical strong safety – the position where he started last year. He was also the junior varsity starting quarterback in the eighth and ninth grades and has been the backup under center for the varsity for the past three seasons.
Many of the faces have changed but McWhorter said Cedar Bluff’s approach on offense will not.
Despite running out of a shotgun set, “I would consider us a very physical, power running team first,” McWhorter said. “That’s how we like to think of ourselves.”
He noted that last year the Tigers ran about 75 percent of the time and threw about 25 percent. That’s not likely to change. With Cosby at quarterback, McWhorter said the Tigers will “still throw downfield vertically and still throw screens.”
On defense, McWhorter will stay with the 3-4 look he went to by necessity three years ago and like so much he stayed with it. With Cosby moving to quarterback, where McWhorter would prefer he be on the sideline when the Tigers are playing defense, the 2013 defense will have only one returning starter. Junior safety Blake Terry (5-10, 175) is that player.
McWhorter said Leach and Mintz will play at times on the defensive line. Joining them will be senior nose guard Dylan Allen (6-0, 330). Allen played as a freshman in 2010 but has not played since. McWhorter predicted Allen’s size and “very good feet” will make him a disruptive presence in the middle.
“We’re actually rotating about seven kids on the defensive line and in the process of, like I said, trying to find some starters. We feel pretty good with whom we have. I’m just not to the point where I’m going to name any starters,” McWhorter said.
The Tigers will be starting from scratch at linebacker, a process the coach compared to putting a puzzle back together.
“Some years you have more pieces missing than others,” he said. “Obviously, this year we have a lot missing.”
Joining the smattering of seniors and juniors on the varsity will be 13 sophomores. McWhorter said eight freshmen and two eighth-graders will dress with the varsity.
“Most of those 10th-graders are either starting or providing quality depth and a couple of the freshmen are, too,” McWhorter said.
Region 7 is expected to be competitive this season. Collinsville, Spring Garden and Donoho joined Cedar Bluff as the region’s playoff teams last year. Gaylesville and Valley Head are expected to challenge for playoff berths this time, too.
How does McWhorter assess Cedar Bluff’s chances for an 18th straight playoff appearance?
“We’re not going to be real flashy as far as athletic ability. We’ve got some kids that have some of that. These kids just work hard and they want to try to be physical and I feel like we’ve gotten better with the physical part of it,” he said.
Cedar Bluff at a glance
Head coach: Jonathan McWhorter (62-24 in seven seasons, all at Cedar Bluff.)
Last year’s record: 10-1, including 8-0 and a first-place finish in Class 1A, Region 7. Lost in second round of state playoffs.
Outlook: Cedar Bluff’s inexperienced team will get a quick challenge. Because Region 7 is a nine-team region, the Tigers open the 2013 season on the road against region opponent and intra-county rival Gaylesville. The winner of that game likely will host a first-round playoff game. The loser will have to scramble to play at home Nov. 8.
Aug. 29 at Gaylesville #
Sept. 6 Valley Head #
Sept. 13 at Coosa Christian #
Sept. 20 Jacksonville Christian #
Sept. 27 Woodville #
Oct. 4 at Collinsville #
Oct. 11 at Donoho #
Oct. 18 Open
Oct. 25 Spring Garden
Nov. 1 Sand Rock
# Denotes region game