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BACK FOR MORE…Southern Academy prepares for shot at back-to-back titles

You won’t have to ask the Southern Academy Cougars or their head coach, Shaun Bonds, to spell out their goal for the 2005 season. Their t-shirts will do that for you: Respect. Effort. Preparation. Enthusiasm. Attitude. Teamwork. In other words: REPEAT.

The Cougars may have won last season’s AISA class 1A state championship, but that doesn’t mean they’re satisfied with that accomplishment by any means. Bonds says that after the 2004 team was awarded their championship rings, every player returning for 2005 stashed their ring at home, refusing to dwell on their prior triumphs when there’s still more work to be done.

“They want to win their own,” Bonds says. “I know it’s a hard thing to do. It’s going to take some luck. But you make a lot of your own luck through preparation.”

A lot of that preparation for the 2005 season will focus on finding ways to overcome the loss of some of the All-State players that led the way to the 2004 title. The Cougars return more starters than they must replace–six each on offense and defense–but Bonds says there’s no way not to feel the departure of players like former running back Eric Montz or tackle Wes Davis.

“There’s no way you can just replace them, their particular abilities,” Bonds says. “Eric’s big, fast, had great vision. Wes was a DI prospect with a passion and lots of leadership…he just wanted to win so bad, and we’ve got to instill that in these guys.”

But just as the 2004 team went on to win the state title with Montz on the bench due to injury, Bonds says that as long as this year’s Cougars adopt the same refuse-to-lose attitude they can find the same kind of success.

“We lost some key people, but it’s just a matter of the people we have stepping up…They’ve been there and they have that ability,” he says. “Leadership doesn’t just happen. We need leaders now, we’re going full speed and those are the guys we’re searching for, that will step up and lead.”

Bonds said that, even during the first week of practice, some players on the 2005 Cougar roster had already shown their willingness to shoulder the leadership burden. One of those is quarterback/tailback Wallace Trury, a quick, shifty QB who Southern will depend on to make as many plays with his legs as with his arm. Another is senior offensive tackle/defensive end Andy Wheeler, a “tremendous” leader according to Bonds, and vocal firebrand Wes Hendrie, a senior who has “been a leader ever since I’ve been here,” Bonds says.

Then there are senior leaders like Jason Segura and Brad McCroy, lunchpail guys who

“just come to work and work hard and don’t say a word,” according to Bonds. All of them will be depended on to help establish Southern’s philosophy of up-front, in-your-face, keep-it-on-the-ground offensive football.

“We want to run the football. We’re not a finesse team,” Bonds says. “We teach them in practice to put ahelmet on people and to be the most physical team around. What we want to do is wear [opponents] down in the fourth quarter with that big line. We spend all year developing that physical attitude, that we’re going to knock people off the ball.”

That doesn’t mean the Cougars will be a “three yards and a cloud of dust” team, though. With the departure of Montz, Bonds and his volunteer staff are working in a number of option looks that will look to take advantage of Trury’s quickness and decision-making ability.

“We’ll put it in his hands most plays,” Bonds says.

When Trury does need to hand the ball off, he’ll have a number of faces behind him ready for the opportunity. Bonds says the Cougars will use a “running back by committee” approach that will keep Southern’s legs fresh and the opponent off-balance.

“There’s no way to replace Eric Montz,” Bonds says, “but we’ve between three different, talented backs, we can have the same level of production.”

A similar philosophy will be employed on the defensive side of things, where the Cougars hope their depth will prove to be the difference. Bonds says, for instance, that Southern will rotate three players at noseguard, none of whom might be as physical as last year’s starter but each of whom have “better feet…they’re quicker, faster.”

Those quick feet coupled with fourth-quarter freshness in the rotation will hopefully mean late-game dominance along the defensive line. Bonds says the experience and depth in that unit will be the defense’s biggest strength.

“Four of our front five is back. That in itself is our strong suit,” he says. “We’re big and physical and we have some depth up there.”

Bonds warns that new players will have to prove themselves in the secondary, where departed safety Thomas Langham will be missed. But by and large, the sheer numbers of players on the Cougar roster–Southern may return to AISA classification 2A in 2006–mean that the places should be in piece for another run at the 1A title. Most Cougar supporters, Bonds says, are expecting anything less–not that he minds.

“We have the best fans in the AISA, so yeah, there’s pressure,” he says. “When we went from 2A to 1A [before the 2004 season], I told them, this thing is ours to lose. Then I asked them, now, what are you going to do about that? And they went out and made the same plays every Friday night, no matter the opponent. If we can get this bunch to do that, we’ll take our chances against anybody else in 1A.”