The New Brockton Gamecocks made it to the state playoffs for the fifth consecutive time in 2018, which is only the second time that is happened in school history, but the Gamecock players are tired of settling with simply making the playoffs.
In Justin Jones’ five years at New Brockton, the Gamecocks made the playoffs all five seasons but went 1-4 in those five years with just one playoff win back in 2016.
Now, new head coach Zack Holmes is looking to help guide the Gamecock players to a deep run in the playoffs.
Holmes comes to New Brockton after spending last season as Enterprise’s defensive backs and special teams coach. Before that, Holmes was defensive coordinator at Eufaula for four seasons and formerly served as defensive coordinator and head coach at Sumiton Christian School in north Alabama.
One of the first things Holmes did when he took over at New Brockton was created a Leadership Council for the team. This group of players consists of five seniors, three juniors, two sophomores and one freshman, and those players are tasked with not only policing each other but also acting as a sort of conduit between the coaching staff and players.
“Those 11 guys meet once a week and it helps me keep the pulse of the team and get input from the team,” Holmes said. “They were elected by each other and our a really good group of guys.”
One of the first thing the New Brockton Leadership Council was set a number of team goals and on the top of that list is the playoffs.
“Winning a playoff game is a big deal for the older guys,” Holmes said. “Our main goal is just to get better every day and that’s my expectation for this team, but I think winning a playoff game is something that is on everyone’s mind.”
Holmes reemphasized that he isn’t putting a number on wins or losses in terms of goals.
“There’s so many factors that go into you record and all of that stuff,” Holmes continued. “You could be a good football team and be 5-5 or be a bad football team at 8-2 depending on your schedule and region.
“The main goal for what we want to do is to see this team reach its full potential. To reach your full potential you want to be as good as you can be and we’re working towards that every day. “
With a new coach inevitably comes changes and one of those changes will be to the Gamecock offense, but only slightly. Holmes said that while the Gamecocks will still have the ability to play out of “spread formations” they will also play out of more “tight” formations with tight ends and fullbacks.
“We will play with more of a tight end set than they have in the past but also do a lot of similar things,” Holmes said. “Justin (Jones) did a really good job with these guys but the biggest difference is we’ll have more of that “tight” look.”
Defensively, the Gamecocks under new defensive coordinator Jonathan Hawkins – also a former Enterprise assistant – will remain a 3-4 defense
One of the biggest differences in the 2019 Gamecocks will be more players playing multiple positions.
“The biggest transition for the kids is the mental side of playing both sides of the ball, but it helps us as a team tremendously because we have so many versatile players that can help us on both sides,” Holmes emphasized. “When you commit to playing both ways and invest in them that way it makes life a lot easier because you can move them around and rotate them in and out.”
One of those players that could end up shining brightest in both the changes on offense is Elite 11 and All-State tight end Russell Weeks.
“Russell is a special player and the thing about Russell is that one of the things that makes him special is that he can move around and move into different spots,” Holmes said. “We have a couple of kids that can play tight end, so when we move Russell out wide then one of those other guys can fill his spot at tight end, which causes issues for the defense.
“I know as a defensive guy, I don’t like seeing a tight end because a lot of teams don’t play with one anymore.”
Weeks will be called on to play more on the defensive side, as well. He will be one of the Gamecocks’ starting outside linebackers along with being the team’s punter.
Another change for the Gamecocks have been in their bodies with new strength and conditioning coach Tyler Stump hard at work getting the team faster and stronger.
“We already had every kid meet our minimum number of summer workouts with room to spare (in July), which is awesome,” Holmes said. “The participation has been really good and we’ve had kids that have gained weight and gotten stronger.
“Tyler has done a great job putting weight on them right now and I feel like we’re in pretty good shape for where we need to be.”
Sophomore Kaden Cupp – who broke New Brockton’s single season passing record in 2018 – will look to make even more strides in his second year as a starter.
When asked whether Holmes worries about such a younger player allowing such early success get to his head, Holmes relayed a story that describes why he doesn’t.
“During the baseball playoffs, Kaden pitched on a Friday night and then on Saturday morning he was up here at 7 a.m. to help pressure wash and paint the field house,” Holmes said. “That’s just the kind of kid he is, so I don’t worry about him. His dreams and aspirations are a lot bigger than (individual success) and he’s nowhere near the level of player he wants to be and that keeps him hungry.”
Along with Weeks, Cupp will have plenty of weapons to throw to with receivers Kaden Hood, De’Shawn McLeod and 2018 Elite 11 Colton Marsh stepping up as big playmakers during summer OTAs and 7-on-7 competition.
The Gamecock running game will likely involve a combination of senior Kyan Horne, sophomore CJ Wilkerson and sophomore Jamarcus Brown sharing the football.
Brown is the younger brother of New Brockton’s all-time leading rusher Jahari Brown.
The defense will lean on Elite 11 defensive end Josh Cardwell, defensive tackle Jake Holloway, Marsh and Weeks as veterans to lead a young, but talented, groupd of defenders.
Holloway moves from linebacker to defensive tackle, while Weeks moves from a part-time defensive end to fulltime outside linebacker in the Gamecock defense.
Weeks was an all-state punter last year and will return to handling those duties in 2019 along with Brandon McCoy at kicker.