By Charles Prince
The North Jefferson News
Injuries and bad breaks plagued the Gardendale Rocket football team all season long this fall, but the players never gave up. According to their head coach they learned to fight through the adversity, making them a better team.
“Our guys just kept playing,” Gardendale head coach Keith Luker said. “They never quit. There was a down period for a couple of weeks when our quarterback first went out. But when Cameron Brewer came in and got settled in, our offense got going again. I’m proud our players never quit. They kept on playing and that’s why we made the playoffs.”
After losing starting quarterback Conner McCain to an injury during the Rocket’s victory over Curry, the Gardendale offense struggled for two weeks, but then rebounded with a win over John Carroll during the season’s final week to reach the 5A playoffs.
Next spring, the Rockets will face another big challenge as the Gardendale coaching staff will be looking for 11 new starters—four on defense and seven on offense.
“We’ll have to find some offensive lineman next spring,” Luker said. “That’s probably the main area we’ll have to find replacements for. We also lost two receivers and our starting running back. We’ll be looking for new guys to step in and prove they can play.”
One bright spot on the offensive side, would be the return of McCain, who is expected to completely recovered from his injury and be at full speed when spring practice rolls around.
McCain started the entire 2006 season as a sophomore and was in his second season as the full time signal caller when he went down with a leg injury.
“We’re expecting Conner to be back to full health by the spring,” Luker said. “We think he’ll be ready for the baseball season when it starts next January.”
Another situation that the Rocket coaching staff will take a long look at in the spring, is where to play Trey Hilliard, now that senior running back Roscoe Ragland’s high school career is over.
Hilliard scored 21 touchdowns this season as a flanker, running back and kick returner.
“We might use Trey in place of Roscoe, but if some of the young guys who played behind Roscoe step up and contribute, we can put Trey back at receiver,” Luker said. “He’s so valuable on the outside. When we get him the ball in the open field he’s a great weapon.”
Among the seniors departing, Luker said at least four have the ability to continue their careers at the next level.
“Zac Davis, Ethan Powers, Jonathan Carter and Roscoe have the talent to play college ball,” Luker said. “Whether it be at the Division II or III level. But, we’ll be sending out some tapes on them over the next few weeks, and we’re expecting some, if not all of them, to get the chance to play college ball.”
Other players, along with McCain and Hilliard, who the Rocket coaches are expecting big years from next season, include linebackers Tyrone Bowie, Brandon Cato and Justin Houchins, defensive lineman Nick Pogue, offensive lineman Joe Jones and receiver Bobby Williams.
Luker said some young players will need to come through for the Rockets to have a successful 2008.
“We’ve made the playoffs two straight seasons,” he said. “So the young guys that step in next spring know the expectations. They’ll have to play well to keep things going. We’re building a program and the playoffs are our goal.”
By Charles Prince