South Pontotoc football made a big jump in 2016, improving from 2 wins to 7-5. After making the playoffs for the first time since 2010 and winning 3 division games for the first time since, the Cougars have been working during their recent spring practices to keep up that level of play this fall.
“The goals that we set for the spring were pretty simple,” said Bradley. “We wanted to get better as individuals and get better as a team. We wanted to get better at our techniques and try to develop some kids to replace some key seniors that we lost.”
One of the most important areas for the Cougars is filling voids on the offensive line. South’s blockers paved the way for a dangerous rushing attack last season that averaged 189.6 yards a game and topped the 200-yard mark times.
“The offensive line is where it starts,” Bradley said. “We have to get better on the offensive line. We lost two key seniors off that unit. We feel like we have some kids that worked really hard there.
The Cougars return several key playmakers on offense in quarterback Cole Brown, tailback Eddie Ivy and receiver Brett Riley. Brown, due to offseason shoulder surgery, didn’t play in the spring game, with backup Will Fleming taking the snaps against Caledonia and getting a
“It was a benefit for to Will to get some reps,” Bradley said. “Cole went through drills with us. He was released for contact, but there is just no sense to risk it with a kid coming off major injury if there is no need to. He had a great attitude about it and worked hard in the drills, so I think it was a win-win situation. I also Will took advantage of it. He had a good spring.
In the search to develop players that are ready to make major varsity contributions, a few Cougars caught the eye of their coach during spring drills.
“Bailey McVay did a good job this spring and has come a long way,” Bradley said. “I also thought Bradley Dillard did a nice job of maturing. He played some last year but he wasn’t a starter.
“On the defensive line I thought Cayce Sims had a really good spring. Of course you had some steady guys like Troy Bone, John Barnes and Eddie Ivy that just keep playing consistently and getting better at what they do.”
The Cougar defense was a dependable, stingy unit last year but is also faced with departures such as multi-year starters Nathan Hester, Dalton Paden and J.A. Staten. Still, however, a number of key players return such as linebacker Troy Bone, defensive end Will Allen and defensive back Oscar Venegas.
“We are hoping to build some more depth there,” Bradley said. “The first guys are pretty good, but we have to look for some more guys that can play as backups.
“Of course the main thing about spring is not getting anybody hurt, and thank the Lord we managed to get through it relatively healthy. We are looking forward to getting into the weight room this summer and continue to improve and get bigger, stronger and faster as we get ready for the season.”