Samuel D. Logan
The Valdosta Daily Times
The Valdosta High Wildcat football team started the season with hopes of winning a state championship. While that may not have occurred, the Wildcats still played each game with tenacity and heart and finished the season 6-5.
“Our kids played hard all year long. The kids did a good job battling through the adversity we went through during the season,” said Head Coach Rance Gillespie. “We were just a play or two short in a few games.”
With a 34-20 loss in the first round of the playoffs against Langston Hughes of Atlanta, the Wildcats' season ended where the 2014 season begins.
The Wildcats have been selected to play in the Metro PCS Corky Kell Classic in the Georgia Dome, 2:30 p.m., Aug. 23, when they will face Brookwood.
The Wildcats will hope to begin the season with a win in the Dome, followed by a final victory at the Dome in December to win a state title.
This past season, the ‘Cats started off 4-0, rolling over Thomas County Central, Brooks County, Crisp County and crushing Newton 41-14.
“We were excited about starting 4-0. Our defense played great all year long. We had had some big special team plays during the run. Our offense was explosive at times, too,” said Gillespie.
The ‘Cats struggled to find wins on the road however, dropping three regular season away games at Camden, Lowndes and Colquitt.
“We played really good teams on the road this season. I do however feel like we have a good home field advantage with the fans at Bazemore-Hyder,” said Gillespie.
Sophomore quarterback Seth Shuman took over at quarterback after the team lost junior Cole Massingill to a leg injury this summer.
Before Shuman had his shot at quarterback, junior Craig Barry and senior Mac Loudermilk, who is also the team's punter, had chances to be the ‘Cats leader, but Shuman was able to claim the undisputed starting spot.
“He (Shuman) really grew as the season went along. He played well a year before we thought he would have to come in. He really got a grasp of what we do on offense in a limited amount of time. When his number was called, he did a great job stepping in,” said Gillespie.
It may seem as if Shuman will be the starter for the ‘Cats coming into spring practice; however, with Massingill and Barry returning, Gillespie noted that there would be competition for quarterback.
On offense, the ‘Cats were led by senior running backs Malcolm Joseph and Nelson Herring, who combined for a phenomenal 1,742 yards on the ground, earning 905 and 837 yards respectively.
“They were two special kids. Both are really great football players and both will have the chance to continue playing in college,” said Gillespie. “Next season, the other players on the roster will step up to the job.”
A big playmaker that emerged for the Wildcats was freshman tight end Khalil McClain. McClain caught 14 passes for 231 yards and four touchdowns on the season.
“He made a lot of big plays as a freshman. McClain grew as the season went along and he will be more involved as he grows in the program,” said Gillespie.
With the ‘Cats losing senior big play receiver Alex Cason to Marshall, they will have to replace a 6-foot-3 speedster, who also returned punts and kickoffs.
“He’s a very talented kid. He really grew over the years. Coach Jacquez Green helped him grow a lot,” said Gillespie.
On defense, the ‘Cats were led by seniors Darrius Sapp and Anthony Smith.
“These two guys are special. Smith did a lot from a call and check standpoint at the line. He always made sure the defense was running the right play. Part of our challenge will be to replace both of them on defense,” said Gillespie.
Cornerback Joshua Norwood will be returning to the ‘Cats secondary as a senior in 2014.
“Norwood played a lot of snaps as a sophomore. He once again had an amazing season. He will be a solid leader for the secondary this upcoming season,” said Gillespie.
Overall, ending the season 6-5 was not in the Wildcats' plans, but Coach Gillespie is optimistic about working with his team as the offseason goes along.
“I am proud of my kids and the efforts they put in through the year,” said Gillespie.