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Shades Mountain Christian Coach Likes Team’s Shift to 1A
By Cary Estes
Journal Sports Writer
The biggest concern for second-year Shades Mountain Christian head coach Jonathan Loudermilk this season is turnovers, both on and off the field.
Loudermilk said the Eagles’ inability to hang on to the football was a primary contributor to their 3-7 record last season. He said there were at least three games that Shades Mountain could have won had the team simply taken care of the ball.
Win those three, and suddenly the Lions are 6-4 instead of 3-7.
“We couldn’t hold on to the football. It didn’t matter who touched it, everybody seemed to fumble it once,” Loudermilk said. “We’ve really tried to stress to them that you can’t be competitive if you can’t hold on to the ball.”
Two games in particular summarized the team’s turnover struggles, said the coach. Against American Christian, the Eagles had a chance to tie the game just before halftime but lost a fumble in the red zone. American Christian pulled away in the second half for a 29-3 victory.
A nearly identical situation occurred a few weeks later, where a chance for victory literally slipped through the Eagles’ fingers as a close game against Thorsby turned into a 28-6 loss.
“We came out like gangbusters in the first half of those games, and we just couldn’t finish,” Loudermilk said. “We were competitive but just shot ourselves in the foot. Anyone can run a ball, but it takes somebody with a little mental toughness and some focus to hold on to it.
“Those are some of the things we’ve harped to our guys about. You have to be tough, and you have to do the little things. Over time, you like to think that as a program develops, kids will continue to grow, and we’ll stop making some of those first-day mistakes.”
The problem is, a lot of the players who learned those lessons from last season are not around to help Shades Mountain this year. That is where the off-the-field turnovers come into play. Loudermilk said the Eagles lost 25 varsity players from the 2009 team, approximately half their roster.
“I wish I could say we’ve learned a lot, but we’ve had a lot of turnover,” Loudermilk said. “We have a whole new look. We look like a different team.
“We have a few of the old components back, and that’s important because I know what to expect of those guys. But we have a lot of new faces, a lot of young faces who have to come in right away and contribute.”
The core of the team this year will be a half-dozen returning players who will line up on both sides of the ball. They will be led by 205-pound senior David Reeves, who will start at quarterback and linebacker.
“You don’t envision a big quarterback like that at a 1A football team,” Loudermilk said. “David has been the nucleus of our team for a while now.
“He’s a very talented kid with a strong arm. And he’s a very good linebacker, too. He loves contact.
“We look for big things out of David. Senior leadership is a focal point, but what we’re really looking for is just a guy who can command the offense. David is doing that for us.”
Junior Kyle Nation returns as the starting fullback and also will play several positions on defense.
“Kyle is a little sparkplug,” Loudermilk said. “He’s a small guy, but he runs hard and plays with a lot of emotion. He’s a competitor. He will be a rover for us on defense.
“He’s kind of a hybrid guy. He’s an outside linebacker, a safety and corner all in one. He can run and cover people, but we also like what he provides against the rush.”
Senior Justin Simmons will line up at the wingback position on offense and at cornerback on defense. He’ll also return kicks.
“Justin is our speedster,” Loudermilk said. “He has that extra gear that coaches like to talk about — that extra button where when he decides he’s going to turn it on, there’s nobody who can catch him.
“That will really help us in a lot of ways. It’s our job as coaches to find ways to put him in position to get the ball.”
Loudermilk said he expects senior Nick Holt to have an increased role with the team this year, both at receiver and linebacker.
“Nick did some great things at the end of last season,” Loudermilk said. “He’s a big-bodied receiver (6-3, 200 pounds). We’d like to think we could take our shots with him several times a game and see how he matches up with other teams athletically.
“On defense he’ll come off the edge and be part of our pass-rush packages.”
The offensive line will be anchored by senior center Preston Williamson and junior Jack Spink.
“Preston is not the biggest guy, but he’s definitely the most knowledgeable and a great technician,” Loudermilk said. “We take a lot of pride in allowing Preston to call our offensive fronts and get the rest of our linemen on the same page.
“He’ll play linebacker on defense. He really has a nose for the ball.
“Jack Spink is the strongest player on the team. He’s a weight-room warrior, a fierce competitor. He’s just a football player. That’s the biggest compliment I can pay Jack.
“He can line up and play center, guard, tackle. You could put him at fullback. He’ll also start at defensive end. He has a great motor and is a very tough, hard-nosed player. We expect good things out of him.”
Loudermilk also is looking to receive key contributions from defensive backs J.P. Curren and Henry Waite, as well as offensive lineman David Belcher.
The one off-season change that might help Shades Mountain is the program’s move from Class 2A to 1A. All three of the Eagles’ victories last season came against 1A teams, while they went 0-7 against 2A opponents.
“We think we can compete with just about everybody we have on our schedule this time around,” Loudermilk said. “A lot of times when you get knocked down and beat up pretty good, you get a sense that it’s a perpetual cycle that you’re never going to get out of.
“Moving down to 1A should help give us a competitive edge.”
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