After a third trip to the semifinals of the state playoffs in 2012, it has been four years since the Fountain Lake Cobras have won a state or conference title. Head coach Tommy Gilleran is ready to step things up this season.
“We said we’ve been stopped the last three years, and we need to figure out what’s keeping us from not getting to that next level. And it’s a play here and there at that level,” Gilleran said. “That’s what it takes to get to the state championship.”
Last season, the team had an 11-3 record but lost in the semifinals by two points to the Harding Academy Wildcats, the eventual state champs.
Since then, the team has been preparing for fall ball with more emphasis on fitness and by attending three team camps with other squads who are in bigger conferences.
“One of the things we’ve talked about, of course, is being in better shape, so we’ve done a lot more running, and we’ve worked on their core to strengthen the middle of the body so they can have more agility and be more athletic,” Gilleran said.
With 21 seniors graduating in May, Gilleran has 14 more seniors looking to fill those spots this year. “We have some seniors that we’re really going to lean on hard this year,” Gilleran said. “A lot of those kids, we’re really relying on. We’re expecting a lot of big things out of those kids. They’re the ones we’re going to count on to make plays and do great things for us.”
Among returning starters and key players are five seniors: wingback Wesley Sutter, halfback Seth Harper, wide receiver/free safety Cody Fortner, left guard Cole Murray and defensive end Eli Westerman; and two juniors: linebacker Colby Spoon and quarterback/safety Carson Chandler.
Gilleran said the team bases its offense around the Wing-T, and its 4-2-5 defense is a read-and-react. “We’re more run heavy, pass second, which is probably not normal for what everybody wants to see nowadays,” Gilleran said. “We try to keep everything in front of us. … We do those type of things to make the offense work all the way down the field before they score. We’re trying to make it harder on them.”
One positive is how Gilleran feels about the Cardinals’ special teams.
“We’ve always lacked having an extra-point guy, and we have a guy we feel like is going to be pretty good — J.T. McCoy. He’s a sophomore, and we feel like he’s really stepped up, and we’re excited about what he can do kicking extra points. He’s going to do our kickoff, and he’s actually going to be our punter. He takes a lot of time and effort and does extra to get better at it, so we’re excited about where he’s headed,” Gilleran said.
On the return game, Cody Fortner will be on the punt return, and Wesley and Seth will go deep for kickoff returns.
“They’re some of our faster kids. We want to put them deep and see where they get,” Gilleran said.
Glen Rose and “town-rival” Jessieville will be some of the biggest games this year. Glen Rose has had good athletes to match up with the Cardinals’ athletes, Gilleran said.
“They’re both good games, and they’re both hard for us to win. We want to play hard and compete against a great team, and that’s what both of those schools bring,” Gilleran said.
He said that after playing ball with 5A and 6A schools during the summer, he believes the team competes among the highest-ranked schools in its conference. Despite weaknesses on the offensive line and in the secondary, he is hopeful about the upcoming year.
“As long as our offensive line continues to mature and our secondary gets better, we feel good about where we’re going,” Gilleran said. “We’re excited about where we’re at, and hopefully, we’ll continue to get better to improve those spots where we’re not good.”