KICKOFF 2012: Calhoun County excited about youth movement

Running back Marquil Middleton, left, and star linebacker Cortez Brown, center, will be the Cougars' two senior leaders this season, while DaJohn Williams --- the coach's son --- will lead the team under center as a sophomore. (Photos by john.millikan@albanyherald.com)

Running back Marquil Middleton, left, and star linebacker Cortez Brown, center, will be the Cougars' two senior leaders this season, while DaJohn Williams --- the coach's son --- will lead the team under center as a sophomore. (Photos by john.millikan@albanyherald.com)

Counting down to kickoff

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s in-depth look at PELHAM and CALHOUN COUNTY marks the fourth and fifth of 26 prep football season previews that will appear in the sports section during the next two weeks as we count down to Kickoff 2012. On Saturday, we’ll take a closer look at WORTH COUNTY. Enjoy!

EDISON — In his 15 seasons as coach of the Calhoun County football team, there were years where John Williams was left shaking his head at his incoming freshmen.

“Let me explain it like this,” Williams began after a practice last week, “you would come out and guys wouldn’t even know how to buckle their chin straps. They wouldn’t have pads on correctly.”

Williams was able to skip the chin-strap lessons this year.

Nearly half of the 32-man Calhoun County roster is made up of freshmen, but these aren’t your ordinary, run-of-the-mill ninth graders.

No, these kids can play.

“This freshman group is used to actually playing football. You don’t have to go through all the details,” Williams said. “And we have a group of 10th graders who are the real deal, too. They should be able to make some things happen.”

There’s a youth movement going on in Edison, where the majority of the team is made up of freshmen and sophomores who won middle school titles the last two seasons.

A Cougar team that finished 4-7 overall and 3-4 in Region 1-A last season isn’t just looking to make the postseason for the second year in a row. With their talented underclassmen and a handful of key leaders, they have their sights set much higher.

“Our motto this season is ‘15 games.’ We don’t want to lose,” senior running back Marquil Middleton said. “We have less attitudes, and the season is going to be what we make it. We are feeling real good about it.”

The Cougars think they can build on last season’s success with the largest and most-talented group of freshmen and sophomores to grace the program in years.

“Not only can this group (of underclassmen) understand plays, they come to the sideline and can intelligently tell you (strategies),” Williams said. “That’s the type of group they are.”

But how well can these freshman transition to the varsity field, where the hits are harder and the plays are faster?

That’s the big question mark in Edison this season. And that’s what is driving the upperclassmen to step up as leaders.

“We will have seniors who will run extra to get the guys that aren’t going as fast as they need to,” said Williams, who has eight seniors on his team. “If there is somebody who is falling back, they will go out and work and motivate them. They won’t just tell them to go, they will run with them.”

Middleton and linebacker Cortez Brown are two of Calhoun County’s biggest leaders — not just because of their play (Middleton rushed for eight TDs, and Brown led the team in tackles last season), but because of their attitudes.

“When we are doing a drill, we push (the freshmen) all the way through to make sure they finish,” Middleton said. “We say things like, ‘Family’ and ‘Who’s got our back in the fourth quarter?’ and ‘We don’t give up on each other.’”

Mottos aren’t the only thing flying around the Calhoun County practice field, where Middleton plans on putting the Cougars’ offense on his back with his speed and agility. He was a backup last year behind talented leading rusher Willie Brown but still was able to get his touches and find the end zone. This season, the spotlight has moved from Brown to Middleton, and the senior is ready to step up to the challenge.

“We will give it to Middleton at least 25 times,” Williams said. “He is a very good running back. We had Willie Brown last year, and Middleton was kind of in his shadow. When he got a chance to get the ball, he was able to make some things happen.”

Middleton will be taking his handoffs from quarterback DaJohn Williams, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound sophomore and the coach’s son.

“He is able to read the defense and has a pretty good arm,” John Williams said about his son. “He will be able to make things happen. He is tall enough to see across the line of scrimmage and has a strong enough arm to get the ball where it needs to be.”

On the other side of the ball, no one on the team is more talented than Brown, who said the “defense is the heart of the team.”

“He is one of the ones, along with Middleton, who will run with the freshmen and try to encourage them,” Williams said about Brown. “With the (defense) that we run, he is the man that covers some ground and can make a lot of tackles.”

Sherrod Williams, the coach’s young cousin, is another one of Calhoun County’s leaders on defense. The sophomore defensive end recorded 29 sacks last season, including nine sacks in a single game against Spencer.

“You can count him as having about three sacks per game,” John Williams said. “He has real good speed and real good hands.”

Calhoun County's 2012 outlook

MASCOT: Cougars.

HEAD COACH: John Williams (15th season at Calhoun County, 17th overall after two years as head coach at Randolph-Clay).

2011 RECORD: 4-7.

ASSISTANT COACHES: Marcus Shaw (defensive coordinator); Kedroine Harris (special teams/DEs); Ricky Bennett (DBs/WRs).

RETURNING STARTERS: Cortez Brown (Sr., FB/MLB); Marquil Middleton (Sr., OLB/RB); Sherrod Williams (So., RB/DE); DaJohn Williams (So., QB/DE); Adolphus Johnson (Sr., OL/DL); Ryan Shorter (Jr., C); Anthony Preston (So., OL/DL); Trevorious Carter (Sr., TE/CB); Deante’ Scott (So., CB/WR); Xavier Denton (Sr., OL/MLB) .

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Anthony Johnson (Fr., OLB/RB); Xavier Johnson (Sr., CB/KR); Elester Shedrick (So., NG); Jaylen Gray (Fr., OL/DL); Jacoby Gadsen (Fr., OL/DL); Teddy Ross (Jr., DE/OL); Isaiah Hallmon (Jr., DB/WR).

PLAYERS IN COLLEGE OR HIGHER: Cecil Brown (University of Minnesota Crookston, Sr., MLB).

2012 Calhoun County Cougars schedule

Aug. 31 vs. Berrien, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 7 at Lanier County, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 at Turner County, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 21 vs. Early County, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 28 vs. Terrell County (1-A), 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 5 at Miller County, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 vs. Seminole County, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 26 at Mitchell County, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 2 vs. Randolph-Clay, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 9 at Stewart County, 7:30 p.m.

-- BOLD denotes GHSA Region 1-A game