Calhoun County’s Raishun Anderson, left, is dragged down by James Ford during a Cougars practice last week in Edison. Calhoun is coming off a 3-7 season, but will have a large number of returning players who are thinking big things in 2011.
EDISON -- John Williams has the Calhoun County Cougars believing.
And not just believing they have a chance to post the school's first winning season since 2007, but believing they can make waves in a crowded -- and talented -- Region 1-A race.
Never mind that the Cougars have had just two winning seasons in the past decade and eight combined wins the last three years. Forget about their tiny roster, which dipped down to 23 players in 2010.
Williams, who is entering his 14th year as head coach at Calhoun County, said hard work and determination always drives his teams. And this year is no different.
"It comes from right here," senior receiver Marquez Williams said as he tapped his chest before a preseason practice. "The coaches instill it in us. We just need to continue to work hard."
The Cougars finished last season with a 3-7 record, but enough returning players have the team setting its sights for something big.
"I am expecting us to go undefeated," senior quarterback Aaron Thornton said. "I'm not doubting us at all. As long as we keep everybody's head in the game, we will be good. Look for us going to the dome this year."
However, hard work can only go so far without execution, and Williams said his Cougars have little room for error on the field if they want to reach their goals this year.
"Offensively, we are going to need to run some perfect plays and execute like we should," Williams said. "Once we are able to do that, I think some great things will happen."
Thornton, who said he greatly improved during the offseason on his arm strength and can now heave it 70 yards, will guide an offense that averaged just 16.8 points a game last year.
"(Thornton) will stand in the pocket and make the pass that you need to be made," Williams said. "He does an overall great job. We try to hold him out of defense a little bit, but he is probably one of our better outside linebackers."
One of Thornton's main targets will be Marquez Williams, whose top game last season was against Region 1-A runner-up Seminole when he caught a pair of touchdown passes. Marquez Williams echoed his quarterback's expectations.
"We are a hard-working team," he said. "Look for us to go far in the playoffs. And like I heard our quarterback say, look for us at the dome."
The Cougars lost stars Rodney Coleman, who led the team in rushing last year. Looking to fill those shoes as the team's top rusher will be Willie Brown and Vincent Powell, a pair of seniors who had limited carries last season. Freshmen Diante' Scott and Sherrod Williams will also add some depth to the running game.
Coach Williams said Brown, Marquez Williams, Marquail Middleton and Cortez Brown will be the playmakers on a defense that needs big plays this year after allowing a dismal 34.4 points a game in 2010.
"In order to have a good season, we are going to have to step up and play some defense," Williams said. "It's been a while since we have really been able to get a defensive force, and we have a few guys who we are going to put in there and make some things happen. We need some big plays."
Calhoun County opens its season Friday night at home against Lanier County, kicking off a four-game homestand to start the season. And when the Cougars take the field for their first game of the year, the coach said it's all about believing they have a shot.
"We believe that on any given night, anything can happen," he said. "Our numbers aren't as great as many other teams, and we don't have the size some people may have. We just expect our guys to go out there and play as hard as anybody."
Calhoun County's 2011 season outlook
HEAD COACH: John Williams (14th season at Calhoun County, 16th season overall as head coach; 68-78 career record).
2010 RECORD: 3-7.
ASSISTANT COACHES: Todd West (offensive coordinator); Marcus Shaw (running backs/receivers); Robert Bice (special teams); Kedrion Harris (tight ends/defensive line).
RETURNING STARTERS: Marquez Williams (Sr., WR/DB); Marquail Middleton (Jr., RB/OLB); Robert Miller (Jr., TE/MLB); Vincent Powell (Sr., RB/DB); Raishun Anderson (Sr., WR/DB); Adolphus Johnson (Jr., OL/DL); Skylar Wallace (Sr., TE/DE); Aaron Thornton (Sr., QB/LB).
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Sherrod Williams (Fr., DE/DB); DeJohn Williams (Fr., DE/QB); Deante' Scott (Fr., DB); Teddy Ross (So., DL).
2011 CALHOUN COUNTY COUGARS schedule
Friday vs. Lanier County, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 9 vs. Stewart County, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 16 vs. Seminole County, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 23 vs. Spencer, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 30 at Terrell County, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 7 at Jeff Davis, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 14 vs. Miller County, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 22 vs. Mitchell County,7:30 p.m.
Oct. 28 at Randolph-Clay, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 4 at Pelham, 7:30 p.m.