Cold Springs narrowly missed a playoff appearance last season in Justin Cornelius’ inaugural campaign at the helm.
The Eagles seek to make bigger strides in 2021.
Unlike the COVID-19-ravaged 2020 campaign, Cornelius believes his crew has already benefited from having a traditional spring practice and a strong preseason camp routine.
“There wasn’t much normalcy last year,” he said. “Even though I was familiar with the team, that’s a huge loss during a coaching transition. We’re head and shoulders ahead of where we were this time last year.”
Cornelius’ squad should be an intriguing one.
The Eagles lost multiple playmakers to graduation in quarterback Brodi Williams, running back Ayden Alexander and athlete Robert Ayala.
However, Cold Springs has experienced offensive and defensive lines to lean upon as new faces get settled on both sides of the ball.
“We’re having to replace some great players who meant a lot to Cold Springs football and produced on a weekly basis. It’s hard to do,” said Cornelius, whose team finished 4-6 last season. “Some of those guys were four-year starters for us. We are fortunate to have experience up front, and you need that when you’re searching for new playmakers. We need that group to lead us.”
Sawyer Swann, Zeke White, Grayson Phillips and Caleb McClendon are among the offensive linemen with considerable varsity snaps under their belt.
“These guys are working hard,” Cornelius said. “They understand the significance of their jobs and take pride in it. All success begins there.”
It’s a two-person battle between Hank Harrison and Tucker Philbeck in fall practice to replace Williams at quarterback.
“We’re going to choose the person who gives us the best chance to go out there on Friday nights and compete,” Cornelius said. “It’s shaping up to be an interesting race.”
Harrison will see time in the backfield if he’s not lined up at quarterback.
Josh Winfrey, Dylan Smith and Victor Laurentius are all playmaking options for Cold Springs in the backfield.
Seth Williams is back with the most experience among the wide receivers. Houston Goodwin, Cameron Nunn and Hunter Calvert are expected to fill roles at receiver or across the offense.
“We’re working some of these guys at multiple spots, and we’ll search for our best matchups on Friday nights,” Cornelius said. “Players have to be iron men in Class 2A football, so a lot of these guys don’t have just one job. You’ll see them all over the field.”
Cold Springs’ defensive success will primarily hinge on the same personnel.
“Some of these guys had more defensive snaps than offensive snaps last year, so I hope that’s a positive,” Cornelius said. “We should have more experience there because of it.”
The Eagles’ secondary features Goodwin, Nunn, Smith and Calvert.
Cornelius expects Williams, Winfrey and Laurentius to stabilize the linebacker unit.
“Our linebackers are athletic and enjoy hunting for the football,” Cornelius said.
The defensive line is similarly made up of the O-line personnel, including Swann, White, Phillips and McClendon.
Harrison has the inside track to handle kicking and punting duties, while Nunn, Goodwin and Smith may see time in the return game.
Cold Springs was in contention for the final Class 2A, Region 5 playoff spot up to its region finale last season before falling to Lamar County by five points.
The Eagles’ ability to replace last season’s offensive production and improve on 31 points per game allowed will be among the determining postseason factors in 2021.
Cold Springs has advanced to the playoffs four of the past seven seasons, including its last appearance in 2019.
“Our region is one of the toughest in 2A,” Cornelius said. “It’s a grind on a weekly basis, filled with football-rich programs. Teams like Addison, Aliceville and Midfield are disappointed if they don’t win a region championship. These teams are accustomed to making deep playoff runs. At the end of the day, we’re focused on Cold Springs and how we can improve each day. The only game we have on our mind is the first one.”
Cold Springs opens the season on Aug. 20 at Meek. The non-region slate includes Meek, Holly Pond (Aug. 27), Falkville (Sept. 24) and Vinemont (Oct. 29).
“No matter what happens on the scoreboard, I want our fans to see a team that’s as tough as nails and competes the entire game,” Cornelius said. “I want our guys to play for the passion and love of the game, be physical and to want the football. We’ll be in good shape if we incorporate those mindsets.”