Season disappointment for Cougars

Published 12:33 am Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A season after reaching the AISA playoffs, the Escambia Academy Cougars will hang up their pads and wait for spring training after finishing 2010 with a disappointing 4-7, 2-6 record.

The Cougars had high hopes entering the season after finishing 7-6 reaching the AISA semifinals last season where the Monroe Academy Volunteers defeated them.

This season was supposed to be a stepping stone for the Cougars with region-dominating Volunteers moving up to Class 3A, but several factors held the Academy back.

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Cougars head coach Heath Gibson said it is hard to play through a season full of speed bumps.

“It’s disappointing because of what high expectations we had entering this season,” Gibson said. “To only win four games when we expected to make the playoffs is something you don’t see coming. Injuries were the biggest thing to hurt us. The impact of an injury can turn a good football team into an average one.”

Injuries played a tremendous impact on the Cougars’ season as they lost one starter in Ryan Linam on the defensive line and had other players slowed by different injuries.

Gibson said having such low numbers always affects a team when the injury bug shows up.

“With the numbers we have, it always hurts when two or three good players go down,” he said. “It really makes for a long season.”

The reason for the high expectations surrounding the Cougars was the return of several starters on both sides of the ball.

The Cougars’ offense was loaded coming into the season with running back Jaylen Henry and quarterback Michael Thompson having a year of experience under their belts. The addition of Wesley Steadham was supposed to make Escambia Academy’s offense a force.

Gibson said with the offense looking strong, he thought this would be a breakthrough season.

“We had our entire backfield back and Michael Thompson was quickly growing up as our quarterback,” he said. “We ran the ball well with Jaylen tearing off for yards and scores, but teams were able to key in on that later. Michael did a good job of throwing the ball in our final few games. Our offense was strong in almost every game.”

On the defensive side of the ball, linemen Robert Whatley and Linam along with linebacker Will Hendrix looked to give opposing offenses nightmares.

The injury to Linam set the wheel in motion as the Cougars had trouble up front on both sides of the ball.

The offense was able to score quick, but the lack of a big body up front allowed offenses to push the defense around and wear them down.

Gibson said size really proved to be a problem that faced his Cougars.

“Our size really hurt us,” he said. “Once we lost Ryan and Robert was hurting then teams really took advantage of us. We lost our big, physical guys and our base defense is really based around our line.”

Once the playoffs were out of the picture, the Cougars seemed to lose the drive, according to their coach.

Gibson said the contest against the Southern Academy Cougars played a huge part in the end of the season.

“After we lost the Southern game, we knew we were out of the playoffs and the guys kind of lost that drive and fight. And it hurts when you go to a game and have some calls go against you that shouldn’t, so it kind of took it out of them.”

With spring training a few months away, Gibson will look to see how he can replace the starters he will lose.

The Cougars lose several linemen, but again return their backfield.

Gibson said developing the players up front will be the main concern.

“We have to replace a few of our linemen,” he said. “We will need to develop them, so they can help open things up for our backs and quarterback who all return next season.”

The Escambia Academy Cougars finished the 2010 season a disappointing 4-7.|Photo by Chandler Myers