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The City Journals

Going into the offseason, Cottonwood football is focused on the little things

Nov 19, 2019 01:47PM ● By Brian Shaw

Cottonwood’s football team took its lumps this season, with a depleted roster size, but its focus on the little things could make for a brighter future. (City Journals)

By Brian Shaw | [email protected]

Going into the 2019 season, so much was going to be new. New head coach. New starting quarterback. New culture. New philosophy. 

Nobody had any idea that it would soon become even more dire than that for Cottonwood football. After the first game against Summit Academy, for example, Cottonwood had already lost 10 players to injuries, according to head coach Casey Miller. 

"Proud of the way our kids fought tonight," said Miller, who added that his team has "Gotta try to get healthy before next week. Lost about 10 kids tonight; hope they get healthy." 

As the season wore on, players continued dropping like flies. The problem was, Cottonwood didn't have any players to replace the ones it lost. Also, players who hadn't bought into the new team either quit the team or were asked to leave one-third of the way through the season, according to Miller. 

After that, one loss turned into two, and two into four, and four grew into seven and then nine losses until Cottonwood's coaching staff was staring down the sideline at a razor-thin bench and a very young team. 

The aim, as the Cottonwood football team entered the tail end of their season winless, then had to become more simple: improve in little ways in their regular season finale Oct. 16 at Hillcrest. 

Mission accomplished. For the first time in Region 6 play in 2019, the Colts did not allow more than 50 points in any one game. The 49-0 loss to Hillcrest on Oct. 16 might have even signaled a step backward to anyone outside the program who watched the Colts defeat their bitter rival last season. 

But to Cottonwood, whose eyes are firmly fixated on the future—after witnessing their sophomore/JV squad blow out Hillcrest 41-0 a day earlier—it's progress. 

Finishing off with a rival with whom the new coach Miller is acutely familiar (he was Hillcrest's head coach a few years ago) was a nice way to wrap up a tough first season at the helm of the Colts varsity team. 

In 2019, watching Cottonwood's varsity play, whether you were there in person or watching a livestream, was like watching David battle Goliath on most days. 

When a team like Cottonwood's was barely fielding 40 healthy players at its peak—if they were lucky—against 70 to 90 players on some varsity 5A squads, it's an impossible task. But, that's not even the half of it. 

Many Colts players come from single-parent homes at which the female is the primary guardian and sole provider. And so, because of that lack of a father figure, Miller found himself looking at unfamiliar territory before the even season began. 

"We have quite a few kids who do not have access to a shirt and [neck] tie to wear to school on game days," said Miller earlier this season. "If anyone has a few shirts and ties they could part with, please let me know and I'll try to find a way to get them to our school so I can teach some of our kids how to tie a tie." 

The response from the community to that public plea was swift; dress shirts and ties arrived at the school's main office in droves. Now, the players not only have learned how to do a few new things on the football field, they have also learned how to tie a neck tie, something they'll assuredly utilize at future job interviews and during important life events. 

Cottonwood (0-6 Region 6, 0-10 overall) also wasn't able to field a balanced roster for most games. In most cases, Cottonwood's sideline was about one-third as full as any other school in Region 6. 

Players played on both sides of the ball—offense and defense—leading to lopsided scores as the games wore on because Colts players were obviously exhausted having to play every snap and wore down as games went on. 

Compound that with the fact that almost two-thirds of Cottonwood's players had already played a full JV game a day before the varsity game was even played. You had a recipe for disaster at the varsity level—even if the majority of Cottonwood's players were freshmen and sophomores in 2019 and received much-needed development from the experience. 

For another, senior Jake Miner, who began the season as the Colts starting quarterback, hadn't ever played the position before this season. 

Then during the first game against Summit Academy, Miner, who also plays linebacker for Cottonwood, was injured, leaving the Colts with no other choice but to insert a 5-foot-8, 130- pound freshman in Brock Simpson. 

To his credit, Simpson—also the sophomore/JV team's QB—did all he could in an impossible situation, completing seven of 22 passes for 39 yards in 2019. In a brutal Region 6, leading up to the Hillcrest regular season finale, Cottonwood hadn't allowed fewer than 56 points in any of its first five league games. 

To put Cottonwood's season into some statistical perspective, Simpson had just a 1.5 quarterback rating. Behind center, junior running back Joseph Madrigal rushed for 148 yards and one touchdown. 

The next highest rushing total came from Kirath Makhar, who rushed for 14 yards on three carries as a freshman. Nick Bean was also a freshman and he led the Colts in receiving with two catches for 7 yards. The majority of Cottonwood's positive yardage came during the 66-13 loss at West—the only game at which the Colts scored points in 2019. 

On defense, sophomore Reggie Nielsen led the Colts with 12 tackles and even ran for a touchdown. Junior Michael Miller tacked on seven more tackles for Cottonwood, while Madrigal ended his junior season with 11. 

For most teams, these defensive stats would reflect their player performances in one game. But, not in Cottonwood's case. To wit: in the Colts' game Oct. 10 versus No. 2 ranked Olympus, for example, the offense didn't even cross midfield during the first half without either punting or committing a turnover. All eight possessions in the first half resulted in all 56 Olympus first half points as Cottonwood eventually fell, 69-0. 

That said, the Colts have usually been able to compete for about three quarters before succumbing to a blowout, again, because they don't have enough players on their roster—they traveled to Maple Mountain Oct. 4 with just 22 players in a 54-0 loss—nor the experience to stay with these deeper, more talented, more physically mature schools. 

The Colts are getting all they can from the players they do have in this 2019 season though, and that's something nobody can ever take away from them. 

Cottonwood heads into the 2020 season knowing vast improvement is just over the horizon if they're willing to continue putting the work in this offseason. In the meantime, Miller added he's grateful to his five senior players who leave knowing they did all they could. 

"Our five seniors have battled and tried to help change the culture at our school this year," he added. "Season hasn't gone our way at all, but I gave them all a big hug and thanked them for all they have given us."