Bulldogs look for bounceback year
The recent success in football from Marshall County High and Forrest has allowed the smallest high school in the county to be somewhat overlooked with the Tigers making a run to the 4A state semi-finals and the Rockets advancing to the second round of the playoffs, winning its first region title in 29 years, while the Bulldogs limped to the finish line in 2015 with a 3-7 record.
A closer inspection of the schedule and the roster reveals that the Bulldogs were a play or two away from its first winning season since 2013 and just it's second in the past 10 years with freshman and sophomores getting the bulk of the playing time on an underclassman heavy laden line-up.
Second year head coach Gerard Randolph will be counting on those same underclassmen to step up in leadership roles this season and that began with a successful off season.
"During the off season we really stress our strength and conditioning program," Coach Randolph explained. "Our numbers have been up during the off season and we had several guys come in and get bigger, faster and stronger. You try to develop an identity during the off season. The identity that we wanted to achieve was to be a smart, tough and physical football team."
"Honestly, I have expressed to my coaching staff that we have to coach every kid up to the best of our ability," Randolph continued. "With our team not having several seniors, we have to stay on the guys and helped them learn to be leaders. We are looking for Ben Taylor and Dakota Polk to help build that leadership also. We have a good junior and sophomore class and I have no doubt that some of those guys will step up and help lead this football team."
"The main strength of this year's squad would definitely be at the skill position, Randolph said. "We have everyone back from last year at the skill positions, and we have been fortunate enough to gain some more depth there with our upcoming freshman class. We had several freshman play a ton of football last year, and they gained a tremendous amount of experience, and I look at that being a big- time strength for our squad."
While most of the off season attention has been paid to MCHS quarterback Bryce Wallace, heir apparent to graduated Mr. Football finalist Ashton Posey, Cornersville returns sophomore quarterback Eli Woodard, who turned in as good a freshman season as any quarterback in the mid-state. Woodard, who started every game during his debut season with the Bulldogs, led Cornersville with 266 passing yards but was more dangerous on the ground, rushing for 468 yards and seven touchdowns in 2015.
"Well, starting as a freshman helped me a lot with experience of how much faster the game of high school is compared to past experience," Woodard said. "I think that goes for all of us sophomores and juniors. A bunch of guys on the team are taking a big role in the leadership role which is better than just me as one person."
Woodard will look to another sophomore, Peyton Finch, to have an even better second year than the first, which was plagued by inconsistency.
"I've learned to focus on catching the ball first before running and watching the ball all the way into my hands," Finch, who led the Bulldogs with nine receptions and 135 yards, said. "After having a lot of nervousness as a freshman starting on offense I feel like as the year went on I became more confident in myself. I am very confident going into my sophomore season as I have gotten bigger, stronger and faster."
Reading each other
"Me and Eli have been working hard all summer long on routes and timing," Finch added. "We have built that quarterback and receiver relationship and I am very confident that he can get the ball to me and I feel like he knows where I'm going to be on my routes. I am very excited about this year and I'm very excited about the team and our coaching staff. I think we can pull off a great year and a great record and have lots of fun doing it."
The Bulldogs biggest strength is at the running back position where the position goes three-deep with extremely skilled play makers. Last season's leading rusher, Kolbe McMahon led the team with 672 yards and five touchdowns on just 87 attempts before being lost for the season with an ACL tear. The junior running back will be back at full speed for the start of the season after a rigorous rehab regimen throughout the winter and spring.
The absence of McMahon allowed two other freshman Trenton Warren and Cameron Whitaker to get some much needed experience to add even more depth behind McMahon in 2015.
Warren, who came out of nowhere after the McMahon injury, only got stronger as the season progressed to finish with 468 rushing yards and four scores on just 84 attempts including an impressive 162 yards rushing and two touchdowns on just 19 attempts in the season ending win over Richland.
Whitaker, who excels on both offense and defense, finished fourth on the team with 537 all-purpose yards and led the maroon and white with 286 kickoff return yards.
"Coming onto the team as a freshman and getting playing time really boosted my confidence," Whitaker stated. "I'm glad I was able to contribute to the team and my coach's belief in my ability made me want to go out there and play hard. Having that experience early on set the way for an even stronger season this year."
Senior Dakota Polk also contributed to the run game with 52 yards and two scores on just seven attempts last season.
In order for the Bulldogs to have another successful season on the ground, Cornersville will need for an offensive line decimated by injuries and graduation to grow up quickly.
On the line
"The first guy that comes to mind (on the line) is Brock Powers," Randolph said. "Brock has really had a good fall camp and we are looking for him to make the calls on the offensive line. Unfortunately, we lost one of our best lineman in Adam Qualls to an ACL injury this fall. Adam will still be an asset as far as being able to share his knowledge with the younger lineman."
"Another bright spot will be getting Brice Dunkleman back on the line," Randolph added. "He will be a big physical presence on the offensive and defensive line for our team. CJ Coble has looked good for us this fall also. Ben Taylor and Alex Webster have been solid this fall also. I am looking for big things from those two. I look for Devin Baus to be a big time lineman for us this year. This kid has a great motor and does not mind mixing it up in the trenches."
One area of concern for the Bulldogs will be the defense which gave up second half leads against Collinwood and Mount Pleasant in 2015 and allowed Columbia Academy, Fayetteville, Moore County and Huntland to put up huge numbers. Randolph, however, sees the defense as a huge plus rather than a negative heading into the season.
"I really think our defense could be a strength for us this year," Randolph explained. "We have really simplified some things, so that guys don't have to do a lot of thinking and they can go react and play football. In order to win on Friday nights, you have to be solid on defense. I think we will have an active defense that likes to get a lot of people to the ball. Defense will definitely be an asset."
As with most 1A schools, Randolph will not have the luxury of playing his student athletes on one side of the ball. Suiting up just under 40 players in 2016, the Bulldogs will need to be able to count on players to go both ways even if that includes starting the top offensive components on defense.
The star of the defense last season was Whitaker, who chipped in 28.5 tackles, but paced the Dawgs with two interceptions, seven pass break-ups and 7.5 TFL from his defensive back position.
Whitaker roamed the defensive backfield with Woodard, who added 31.5 tackles to go along with five pass break-ups and a team leading two interceptions.
C.J. Coble led the Bulldogs in the trenches last season with a team best 48.5 tackles and six tackles for a loss.
Coble will team with senior Ben Taylor who led the Bulldog defense with two sacks, four tackles for a loss, and 27 tackles.
Young help needed
"Some young guys need to step up and help lead this team," Taylor observed. "One guy can't lead it alone. It takes the entire team coming together as a unit and if we do that we will be very successful this upcoming season. I can and need to be a great example for the younger guys on our team and show leadership through example."
The linebacker position will be manned by yet another pair of sophomores as Finch added 26.5 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss, and an interception and Warren chipped in 21 tackles and four tackles for a loss last season.
The Bulldogs will return the bulk of its special teams unit from a year ago as Taylor kicked two field goals and will take over the point after touchdown kicks. Ryan Prosser will handle kick offs, Finch will return as the punter for the second season and Brock Powers will make his debut as the snapper.
The Bulldogs will look to make a big splash in a region that has lost a ton of firepower to graduation. Returning a team with many of its components from the previous season, the Bulldogs have a legitimate chance to make a return to the playoffs after a two-year absence.
"I think this year's team is a whole lot better than last year's team and we have made a lot of progress," Woodard stated. For reasons like---- we have more leadership on the team and with us only having only two seniors, we as a group have to step up in the leadership role. I think we have accomplished that this off season."
"I think the fans will be surprised at how many guys that can and will contribute to the team this year," Randolph surmised. "We are still a very young team, but we have several guys that can play for us. Offensively, we have at least five guys that can be really effective with the ball in their hands. Defensively, it's the same. We have guys that can make a ton of plays on defense."
2016 Cornersville Football Schedule
August 13 6:30 Jamboree (Richland) HOME
August 19 7:00 Mount Juliet Christian HOME
August 26 7:00 Collinwood AWAY
September 2 7:00 Grace Christian-Franklin* AWAY
September 9 7:00 Moore County* HOME
September 16 Bye
September 23 7:00 Mount Pleasant* HOME
September 30 7:00 Huntland (Homecoming)* HOME
October 7 7:00 Summertown (Senior Night)* HOME
October 14 7:00 Columbia Academy* AWAY
October 21 7:00 Fayetteville* AWAY
October 28 7:00 Richland* AWAY
*Denotes Region 4-1A contest
2016 Cornersville Bulldogs Roster
1 Cameron Estes WR/DB Freshman
2 Trenton Warren RB/LB Sophomore
3 Payton Cooper QB/S Sophomore
4 Ryan Prosser WR/DB Sophomore
7 Eli Woodard QB/S Sophomore
8 Jose Minor WR/DB Sophomore
9 Hunter Sharp WR/DB Freshman
10 Henlee Mitchell QB/S Sophomore
12 Kolbe McMahon WR/RB/DB Junior
14 Blake Pickett WR/DB Sophomore
15 Cameron Whittaker WR/RB/S Sophomore
19 Dakota Polk RB/DB Senior
20 Trace Griest WR/DB Freshman
22 Jay Stafford RB/DB Freshman
24 Jackson Mitchell WR/DB Freshman
27 Wesley Calahan WR/RB/DB Freshman
32 Andrew Brady RB/LB Senior
42 Collin King TE/OLB Sophomore
48 Noah Polk OL/DL Sophomore
50 CJ Coble OL/LB Sophomore
52 Reece Morton OL/DL Freshman
53 Brock Powers OL/DL Junior
54 Cayde Fitzgerald OL/DL Junior
55 Adam Qualls OL/DL Junior
56 Alex Webster OL/DL Sophomore
58 Ben Taylor OL/DL Senior
60 Houston Williams OL/DL Freshman
62 Bryan Giles OL/DL Freshman
63 Devin Massengill OL/DL Freshman
64 Michael Bungay OL/DL Freshman
65 Devin Baus OL/OLB Sophomore
66 Clay Mitchell OL/DL Sophomore
68 Jacob Brooks OL/DL Sophomore
72 Dylan Baus OL/DL Freshman
73 Sabastian Smith OL/DL Sophomore
74 Wesley Foss OL/DL Sophomore
75 Brice Dunkleman OL/DL Junior
77 Peyton Tucker OL/DL Freshman
79 Eli Leverette OL/DL Junior
81 Peyton Finch TE/OLB Sophomore
83 Brady Fitzgerald WR/S Freshman