After finishing with a 2-8 record during an injury riddled 2011 campaign, the Cornersville Bulldogs are hoping those growing pains will pay dividends on the gridiron this season, as they return several starters on both sides of the ball to go along with a handful of promising newcomers that came out for the team this year.
Having made the Class A playoffs the previous two years, the Bulldogs were dealt a major blow prior to the 2011 season when starting quarterback Joe Stocstill tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the Marshall County Chamber of Commerce Pigskin Preview and was forced to sit out his senior year.
The Bulldogs will once again run the Spread offense and return six starters from a unit that averaged 20.6 points per game last year. Senior quarterback Hayden McMahon gained valuable playing experience last year and started the final seven games of the season.
"Hayden is throwing the ball really well right now. He's worked with Ed Zaunbrecher this summer and improved his mechanics and arm strength," said Cornersville coach Ray Stocstill. "He moves well in the pocket and can run with the ball if he has too. He just makes plays when things break down."
The Bulldogs also have a solid backup quarterback in sophomore Jamie Crowell, who started the 2011 season opener against Moore County before being sidelined by a leg injury. Crowell has an excellent understanding of the offense and is good at reading defenses, but has also matured physically and is an accurate passer.
Despite losing leading rusher Noah Rubbo to graduation, CHS has three solid candidates that are vying for the starting tailback spot in senior Zach Small and sophomores Chance Dyer and Devante Spencer. Small and Dyer both have good vision and balance and are tough runners between the tackles. Spencer, meanwhile, is one of the fastest players on the team and has the ability to break the big play when he gets into the open field.
At receiver, the Bulldogs have two returning starters in senior Cody Blackburn and junior Stone Riner, while Nick Groves (Sr.), Justin Black (Soph.), Tyler Lowery (Jr.), and Josh Singleton will also be competing for playing time there.
Riner is the fastest player on the team and has the ability to make people miss in the open field. Blackburn, Groves, Black, and Singleton all have good hands and are dependable targets over the middle of the field with Black being an excellent downfield blocker. Although he didn't play football the last two years, Lowery has grasped the offense quickly and is one of the better athletes on the squad along with being a solid route runner.
After watching their offensive line steadily improve last year, the Bulldogs return two starters up front in tackles Houston Looney and Carson Hagood. Entering his fourth year as a starter, Looney is the most experienced player on the offensive line and is a solid run blocker. Hagood is a solid pass protector and worked hard over the summer to improve his strength.
Seniors Jacob Griffis and Anthony Plummer will likely line up at the two guards spots, while fellow senior Lincoln Highfill will man the center position. Despite not playing the last two years, Griffis has progressed quickly and is a strong run blocker. A transfer from Beech High School, Plummer provides Cornersville with some size up front and has played well during the preseason, while Highfill has improved his technique and will make all the calls along the offensive line. Sophomore Kyle Dickson could also see time along the offensive line after transferring in from Michigan.
CHS returns six starters on defense, but must make significant strides on that side of the ball if they want to increase their win total this season after yielding nearly 36 points per game last year. Cornersville will run a 3-4 base defense, but will use a four-man front as well depending on the type of offense that they are facing.
In the trenches, Griffis will start at one defensive end while Hagood and Looney are competing for the starting spot at the other end position. Griffis has good mobility for his size and is the best run defender along the Bulldogs' defensive line. Neil Davis will also see some action at defensive end and is a tough player that is willing to mix it up.
Blake Tomlin was expected to start at nose guard, but broke his collarbone during the preseason and is expected to miss the first few weeks of the 2012 campaign. When healthy, Tomlin is quick off the ball and can be a disruptive player in the middle.
Dyer and Small will line up at middle linebacker, but both could also see playing time at nose guard, while Cody Coblentz and Singleton will start at outside linebacker. Despite not possessing ideal size for an inside linebacker, Dyer is a very physical player and a solid tackler. He also pursues the ball well and is a good pass rusher when lined up at nose guard. Small is a dependable tackler as well and can chase plays down from behind.
"Chance played a lot for us last year as a freshman. He's a real hardnosed kid and plays bigger than he is," said Ray Stocstill.
Coblentz is very quick and has the potential to be a good passer rusher off the edge, while Singleton is a fundamentally sound player that follows his assignments well.
Blackburn will also see time at middle linebacker when Dyer or Small is lined up at nose guard and provides the Bulldogs with some quality depth at the position.
In the secondary, Lowery, Groves and Crowell will all share time at the two safety positions, while Black, Riner and Spencer are vying for the two cornerback spots.
Lowery has displayed a nose for the ball and excels in coming up in run support, but is also quickly improving his pass coverage skills. Groves is an aggressive player and could line up at outside linebacker as well, while Crowell is a smart player and a solid open field tackler.
At cornerback, Black is the most fundamentally sound player at the position and tackles well in run support, while Riner has good recovery speed and has the potential to be a quality cover corner. After sitting out most of last season due an injury, Spencer is improving rapidly and is a physical player that could also see time at safety.
Senior Victory Palma will handle the place kicking and punting duties this year. Palma has above average leg strength and has improved his accuracy. Riner and Lowery will be the primary return men for the Bulldogs this season.
With Region 6-A powers Wayne County and Perry County both losing very talented senior classes, Cornersville has an opportunity to possibly move up in the conference standings after losing several close games last year. If they can avoid the injury bug that has plagued them over the past few years, the Bulldogs should surpass last season's win total and have a chance to qualify for the playoffs.
"Our goal is always to win our Region. It's tough to do that because we have some good teams in our Region," said Ray Stocstill. "Our second goal is to make the playoffs and advance. We want to make it past the first round this year and think we have the talent to accomplish that."
After opening the season at home against Moore County, Cornersville goes on the road to face Perry County before hosting Huntland and Mt. Pleasant. Following consecutive road games against Forrest and Loretto, the Bulldogs will take on Wayne County and Columbia Academy at home. CHS then closes out the regular season with road games against Collinwood and Richland.
2012 CORNERSVILLE BULLDOGS
Date Opponent Location Time
Aug. 24 Moore County Home 7:00
Aug. 31 Perry County Away 7:00
Sept. 7 Huntland Home 7:00
Sept. 14 Mt. Pleasant Home 7:00
Sept. 21 Forrest Away 7:00
Sept. 28 Loretto Away 7:00
Oct. 5 Wayne County Home 7:00
Oct. 12 Columbia Academy Home 7:30
Oct. 19 Collinwood Away 7:00
Oct. 26 Richland Away 7:00