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Columbia Academy has reason to be optimistic about the 2016 football season.
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Source: 12 Things to Love About 12 South
Due to the TSSAA division realignment, Columbia Academy faces an unknown opponent this week in the Whitwell High School Tigers. This is a game that many have looked at all year as one of the toughest on the CA schedule, and one of the most unfamiliar. Realignment placed CA in a new division, which replaced many of our familiar opponents with new ones. We know some of the opponents, and with the likes of Moore County, there are epic battles in our collective past. Others are brand new to us, like this week’s opponent, Whitwell.
When schedules were published, this game stuck out. They were the unknown, and upon further review, they are good. Playoff good, at least last year. In fact, The Chattanooga Times Free Press, in their 2015 season preview, essentially called Whitwell the heir to the South Pittsburgh throne. Seriously…..that’s high praise. Whitwell was a playoff team last year for the 1st time since 2005. They were led by a dual-threat quarterback, now at playing at Cumberland University, and 3 running backs. For CA, the good news is that the QB graduated. The bad news is that the 3 RBs are still there. These guys led the state in rushing yards in their classification. And they are back. One of them is playing QB, and the other 2 are still in the backfield….still ready to run.
Whitwell’s head coach is RC Helton. He is in his third year at the helm, and he’s making a difference. Learning a little bit about his background makes the phrase “At Whitwell High School, there is a new sheriff in town” possible. Coach Helton didn’t start out as a coach. Rather, he was a Sheriff. Perhaps you have heard of his boss – America’s toughest sheriff, Sheriff Joe Arpaio from Maricopa County, Arizona. Just look him up on YouTube…you’ll see. Incidentally, Helton was also SWAT team leader.
So, what’s that got to do with football? Just think about it for a minute. He leads a group into tough situations, reacts to those situations on the fly, as they unfold, chooses the best course of action, and executes. All based on diligent, relentless training to know when to do what, or what not to do when. Certainly, he has heard every excuse in the book, every line of reasoning, and every plea for mercy. Put that all in the context of a football team, and it almost sounds like the same thing.
Before you get the wrong impression of Coach Helton, let me stop you. In the context of Sheriff/SWAT guy, to me, he was the “good cop”. Incredibly generous with his time, and simply a lot of fun to talk to plus, I just liked him. I greatly respect a coach that puts his kids first, and openly states that he loves his players. Helton indicated that he will do anything in the world to help his players, especially when it comes to getting an education. For some players, they can use football to get a college education, and he works hard to promote his kids as much as he can to help make that happen.
When preparing to play the game, however, Coach Helton is a hard worker, and demands his players to be as well. He has adopted a couple of slogans – one is the “Whitwell Power Company”. He got that from Ga. Southern – a power school in their division. The other is “Red Collar Work Ethic”. Think blue-collar and change the color to red to match the school colors, and you’ve got it. Next, just check out his YouTube and Twitter accounts. Videos are posted of kids working hard – either in the summer or on Saturday mornings after a game, and throw in a little Judas Priest for musical motivation. It’s all about hard work at Whitwell. While coach Helton demands it, he also celebrates those that embrace it – a terrific quality. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
In coach-speak he says, “We are a physical, run oriented football team”. And run they do. Last year, as a 2A school, they led the state in rushing yardage. This year, over 8 games, they have thrown the ball 29 times. That’s 3.6 passes per game, on average. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Those are really eye-opening stats, especially when you think about the fact that sometimes CA averages that per possession! So if you find yourself wondering “what kind of play will they run next?” just think “a running play” and you will be right 92.6% of the time. That’s right, out of 392 plays run this year, 363 of them have been running plays. On a per game basis, they have run 49 plays – 45.4 of them have been running plays and 3.6 of them have been passes. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
So hopefully by now it is clear that this is a running team. But what kind? Is it that jet-sweep, get to the edge, mis-direction type of stuff? Hardly. Go down memory lane for a minute and think about the images that come to mind when you hear the names Jim Taylor, Roger Craig, William Andrews, Bo Jackson, Herschel Walker, and Earl Campbell. Can’t think of anything? Perhaps these links will help:
Got the picture(s)? Tough, hard-nosed running. These are the guys Coach Helton loved to watch, and wants his players to emulate. These represent what Coach Helton is about, and what he wants his teams to play like.
This Friday night, at Whitwell, expect to hear these names – a lot. Sartin (#20), Mchone (#21), Condra (#22), Ingrassia (#7). These are the runners. Each of them have over 300 yards rushing this year, with Sartin leading the way with 674. They’ve all had 2 100+ yard rushing games, except for Sartin. He has 3. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Regrettably for the tigers, #33 Greg Layne has been injured this year. He was a major part of last year’s ground attack, and his absence shows. He injured his knee in the last practice of spring, and is out for the season. The senior is still involved with the team, and leads from the sidelines, minimizing the impact of his loss. Even without him, the Tigers are averaging 277 yards per game on the ground. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
A casual look at the schedule shows Whitwell is 4-4. However, a closer look should cause you to rethink any presuppositions that may lead you to. According to Coach Helton, Whitwell has the 7th toughest schedule in Class 1A. Of their 1st four games, they played 2 class 3A schools, a Div 2A school, and a 2A school. Last week, they beat Sale Creek 53 – 0, and Sartin and Ingrassia were kept on the sidelines as a show of good sportsmanship by coach Helton.
From MaxPreps, here’s how the teams compare:
|Columbia Academy||Whitwell||National Avg.|
|177.0||Rushing Yards Per Game||277.5||182.8|
|180.9||Passing Yards Per Game||34.4||118.4|
|357.9||Total Yards Per Game||311.9||300.0|
|42.3||Tackles Per Game||48.8||55.3|
|1.8||Sacks Per Game||0.3||1.6|
|47.3||Points Per Game||28.4||25.6|
Whitwell’s goal is clear – rush the ball for 300 yards + each week. Every week. To do so, they use a 3 back set. It’s almost like the 3 backs and the QB form a diamond shape. Sometimes there will be 2 receivers set wide – other times those receivers play in close – sort of a 2 TE set – and form what sometimes looks like a 7 man line. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Coach Helton was very gracious to me over the phone. I really enjoyed the conversation. He was pleasant, gracious and quick to point out that CA may be the best team they have seen, and they are looking forward to the challenge. “Number 1 is a special player, as is Number 8. The QB is solid, and #32 plays hard. Both offensive and defensive lines play well. I just don’t see any weaknesses on this CA team, which makes us look forward to playing them. For us, it’s about getting ready for the playoffs, and this game will be a measuring stick for us, for sure,” he said.
Helton was also quick to mention the yellow ribbons each player has on their helmets. This is in honor of a fellow student, Amber Slatton who is engaged in a cancer battle. I call on the entire CA family, and anyone reading this, to lift up Amber in prayer, as well as this school and this community.
For CA to have success against the Tigers, much of the burden will fall on the defense to stop this powerful running attack. Film study reveals that the Tigers’ offensive line is good. They’ve got a giant at center in #77, Blake Muir who stands 6-5 and tips the scales at a cool 260 lbs. The rest of them aren’t that big – anywhere from 185-210 lbs. Even so, Nathan Williams, Adam Whitley, Matthew Fox and John Rhodes will have their hands full against a line that blocks, seals the end and cuts. If they can keep the Tigers’ OL tied up, and away from our linebackers, then we will be OK.
Hudson Primm, Billy Thurman, Blake Masterlerz and Timmy Riley – CA’s linebackers, will have to play a disciplined game, and make tons of tackles. Whitwell averages 6.1 yards per rush. When our linebackers keep them to 3 yards or less, CA will be successful. Certainly, it will be important for Taylor Thompson and Thomas Garrison to play a run-support role from their respective safety positions. Blake Kleinke and Rush Lansdell may get a little bored at the Corner position, yet will have to be on their toes for the 3-4 times the Tigers might throw the ball.
Offensively, CA will surely rely on their combination of speed, power and quickness when running the ball, coupled with the threat of a Dylan Johnson passing to either Thompson, Garrison or Primm is what we are used to……..and what we are likely to see more of this week. That will be the CA version of Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Finally, I saw this quote on coach Helton’s twitter account.
Every game boils down to doing the things you do best and doing them over and over again. – Vince Lombardi
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Originally posted on A Dash of Nash:
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