Like so many teams in the area, the Russell County football team is trying to gain traction and continue the progress of its program.
After winning just two games in 2011, the Warriors won three in 2012, their first under coach Demond McCoy, tied another and lost one by just eight points. They showed signs of life last year, scoring 63 points in a win over Marbury, the highest point total in the program’s history.
They were shut out in three of their first four games, but made enormous progress on offense down the stretch.
The hope is that they can prove that was the beginning and not just a mirage. While McCoy said he thinks his team is continuing to get better, there are certainly obstacles that still stand in the way.
One of the biggest hindrances to an offense’s progress is breaking in new offensive linemen. It isn’t that they aren’t solid players or won’t be solid players down the line. It’s simply a matter of getting them to understand the system, gel with each other and understand the cues of their quarterback.
That will be the case for Russell County this year as McCoy said he is still taking his time to name the team’s starters up front.
Under center, however, the unit is in good hands. It returns quarterback Byron Johnson, who started for the team last season.
“He’s going to do a great job leading our offense,” McCoy said, adding that he’ll still get some competition from backup signal-caller Curtez Woods. “He has a backup who will put some pressure on him as well, and that’s a good thing. Curtez is very athletic and can run the option very well.”
McCoy said he liked the situations at both running back and wide receiver. Caleb Smith will see time at both, at full back and in the slot, but McCoy said he was most impressed with sophomore Josh Johnson.
“He’s only a sophomore, but he’s going to be a great player,” he said. “He’s going to carry the load for us.”
He added the names of Calvin Johnson and Tae Hill as guys to watch on offense. About eight players who played significant time last season are back, though the majority of those play at the skill positions.
McCoy reiterated the importance of getting the line settled in order to move the ball successfully.
“We’re in a rebuilding phase on the line,” he said. “We lost a lot of guys to graduation. We’re going to really get in there and help them learn quickly, though.”
Like the offense, the defensive line is one of the keys to the Warriors’ success. McCoy said the team had the right guy up front in nose tackle Tehri Scott to improve its chances on that side of the ball.
“He’ll control the tempo of the defense,” he said of Scott.
The defense also returns Caleb and Chavel Smith, the latter of which tallied 143 tackles and three forced fumbles last season. Both with alternate between outside linebacker and safety, and McCoy praised their athleticism and experience.
Cortez Gunn and Cameron Brooks will be forces in the secondary along with safety Hill.
Outside of Scott on the line and the Smiths at linebacker, McCoy said the team is still trying to find some consistency in its front seven.
Still, the unit is improving every day.
When the team broke for the spring, McCoy said its numbers hovered somewhere around 90 players. A few months later, it’s looking more like 55-60. It’s a challenge to play with low numbers in a high classification, but Russell County is going with what it’s got.
“We’re getting better every day,” McCoy said. “We control what we can control. We’re going to go with what we have, and we’re going to get a lot of experience doing it.”
That’s not to say the expectation isn’t to win football games.
Last year, the team won two of its final three region contests and finished one game out of a playoff spot behind Carroll, which beat the Warriors 21-0 in the second week.
Any improvement should put the Warriors in that conversation again, and that’s a conversation they’re happy to have.
“We want to win football games and play in the playoffs,” Caleb Smith said. “We want to go a long way.”
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.