2011 Football: Carson preview

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 17, 2011

By Jordan Honeycutt
CHINA GROVE — The Carson Cougars football team will have a new look this season in many key positions, but the team also returns several stars from last year’s 10-3 squad, to make what coach Mark Woody hopes is a balanced team.
“When you lose high school players the likes of (Zack) Gragg, (Shaun) Warren and (Cody) Clanton, it is never easy to reload and replace them,” Woody said.
“However, we have a lot of experienced guys coming back that were important to our success last year and I expect a lot of good things.”
A few of the players that Woody refers to are cornerback Dontae Gilbert, who also plays a little quarterback when needed, safety Zach Blythe and all-county linebacker T.J. Smith.
Although Warren had the best offensive season in Carson’s short history, Woody feels extremely confident about his new halfback Travis Abbitt.
“Shaun would probably kill me for saying this, but Travis may be even faster than him,” Woody said.
Expecting to fill the star receiver role left vacant by Clanton, is the long and lanky K.J. Pressley.
Pressley has looked good in practice, getting behind Gilbert and Abbitt in several receiver vs. corner drills.
After struggling to find talent early on at Carson, Woody has gained followers and righted the ship with a 7-6 record in 2009 and the aforementioned 10-3 a year ago.
Woody no doubt gives the credit to his players’ abilities but is quick to mention that as a high school coach there is a fine line to walk in order to maintain success and continue a winning tradition.
One area in which Carson expects to be really strong is the trenches.
The Cougars aren’t just returning space-eaters, these guys can move with great footwork in addition to their bulk.
Daniel Rodriguez, a 6-foot-1, 290-pounder and Mitchell Galloway (6-1, 275) look to be lead-blockers for Abbitt and the freight-train shaped Chris Barnhardt, who with his Mike Alstott-like frame should pose quite a challenge for county tacklers.
Everyone who knows football or just casually watches the game knows that the most important position on the field is the quarterback.
With the loss of senior leader Gragg, Carson faced a void coming into this season, as it definitely didn’t want to play Gilbert under center every down and also use him in the secondary.
Enter rising sophomore , Austin McNeil. He moves up to varsity this year from junior varsity and brings with him speed and a pretty solid arm.
McNeil will be expected to do a lot, but by his smile and sense of eagerness and excitement, should be up to the challenge.
McNeil resembles a miniature Cam Newton with his smile and personality. Woody can only hope he resembles him on the grass.
If McNeil can provide the spark, along with Abbitt and Barnhardt in the backfield, and Pressley as a deep threat, Carson should be more than a formidable opponent for many area teams.
“Austin is young, but he has a great work ethic and he is smart out here and that goes a long way with his learning the position of quarterback and with helping out the other guys learn their jobs as well,” Woody said.
Defensively, coaches Jason Stanley and Andre McCain feel good about their secondary with Gilbert and Blythe leading the way and with Smith shoring up the linebacking corps.
Expected to lead the Cougars up front defensively is massive track star Myquon Stout.
Stout, who is one of the state’s rising stars in the shot put, will bring his brawn up from junior varsity as well and look to be a lights out run-stopper for the Carson defense.
“Bottom line for this season is we can really be as good as we want to be,” Woody said.
“If these guys all continue to come out here and work hard and fight on every play, then we will continue seeing improvement and have success.”