By Gabriel Stovall
STOCKBRIDGE, Ga. — One-Eleven.
No, that’s not the catchy name for some new teenage music group or band. That is, unless you’re talking about the band of brothers that exists now in Woodland High School’s football program.
“Do your one-eleven,” said junior tailback Kareem Rogers. “First time I heard it was during my first practice freshman year. We’ve been hearing it ever since.”
So has senior defensive tackle JayQuan Coles. The 6-foot-2, 275 pounder has become a force in the defensive trenches. With eight scholarship offers from the likes of West Virginia, Virginia, Samford and Mercer, he’s also obtained a fairly decent-sized blip on the recruiting radar.
He’s one of the anchors of a star-studded defense that quite possibly could take shape as one of the state’s best by season’s end. And he attributes it all to that two-numbered refrain.
“The biggest difference I see in our team this year from last year is that everybody does their one-eleven,” Coles said. “That means each of the 11 guys on the field has just one job. And if all 11 do their one job, we’ll be good. Last year, everybody tried to make other people’s plays. But now we’re doing like our defensive line coach says — everybody’s going to get some out on the field. Not a lot, but just a little. And everybody’s little can add up to a lot.”
Senior receiver Wallace Corker says the team mantra applies to the offense as well.
“It’s about taking care of our position,” Corker said, with the emphasis on the word ‘our.’ “If we all do our job — all 11 of us — and each player does what he’s supposed to do, we should come out with the victory every time.”
Credit this new selfless attitude to none other than third-year head coach Steve Davenport. Although Woodland has missed the postseason during his first two seasons at the helm, the back-to-back 7-3 seasons and the highly recruited athletes littering the roster are both unprecedented for a school that’s only been around since 2007 and had just one winning season (2009) prior to Davenport’s arrival.
Funny thing about the team-wide recitation of this theme is that none of the Woodland players were in close proximity with each other while talking about it. It wasn’t rehearsed. It wasn’t a case of one player mindlessly mimicking the sentiments of another.
That means it’s an attitude that’s now engrained the Wolfpack program’s psyche. And it seems to be growing by the down.
“Man, a lot has changed around here since Coach Davenport came,” said Wallace Corker, a highly recruited wideout in his own right, whose cousin Yusuf is considered one of the state’s top corners.
“Our attitude toward the game. Just our hard work. The way (the coaches) talk to us, they make you believe you can do anything and become what you want to become.”
The confidence shows up in the way they play. And it’s not just mindless hubris. It’s not a case of undisciplined athletes just lucking up to be in the right place at the right time.
This version of Woodland football seems to be just as stout cerebrally as they are physically.
Take, for instance, a play Coles made midway through the first quarter Friday against Lovejoy. A Lovejoy ball carrier took an inside hand off from the shotgun formation, and before he could make his first cut up the field, Coles was there to meet him and drive him back in dramatic fashion.
He knew exactly why he was able to do it, too.
“My defensive line coach told me to adjust to their snap count and try to learn it,” Coles said. “I noticed on the drive before that play, I was focusing on when they would go, and they go on the same count all the time. So I was able to anticipate it.”
It’s a studious nature that has caught on throughout the entire team — particularly the defense.
“I feel like we can be a lockdown defense,” Coles said. “I feel like we’re gonna have a touchdown on defense per game. Our coaches have taught us to know the game. That’s how I feel. Our confidence is real high right now.”
And it seems to be rising offensively, also — especially with senior quarterback Reid Larsen. The 5-foot-11 signal caller looked far more decisive in his throws Friday than in times past. Like the one where he hit Wallace Corker on a 22-yard touchdown pass to put Woodland on the board first.
“That play, it was a flood concept to the right,” Larsen said. “It was fourth and long, so I knew we would need at least 15 yards. I wanted to try and get it on the outside. Wallace ran a good go route, and the first thing the coaches tell us is look top to bottom for the routes. When I saw him open, I just threw it up, since I know he’s a playmaker.”
That example of pitch-and-catch was a manifestation of the hard work Corker and Larsen have put in during the offseason to build trust with each other.
“Over the summer we worked a lot to build our chemistry,” Larsen said. “With so many senior receivers graduating, I knew last year Wallace was going to be my main go-to man this year. Our trust with each other, and my trust in this program and with our coaches is just way up right now.”
And even the quarterback understands the whole one-eleven concept.
“As an offense, we know we have a great defense over there,” Larsen said. “And so we don’t have to try and do their job or over-do things. We just do our job and get better as an offense. I think we have the potential to make a great run in the playoffs if we do that.”
Make no mistake, though the back-to-back seven win seasons are nice, a third seven win season without a playoff berth wouldn’t mean much to these Woodland seniors particularly.
They desperately want to take the next step.
“This season, of course, your expectation is you want to get to the Dome,” Wallace Corker. “But to do that, you first have to get to the playoffs and make it deep, far into the playoffs. That’s what we want this year.”
Said Rogers: “Oh man, no question. The expectation is to make it to the playoffs. But we really want to go to the state (championship).”
Coles believes there’s something different in the intangibles of this team that can help it take the next step.
“We’ve definitely got more stuff to work on,” Coles said. “But we just — I feel like we communicate more on and off the field. We trust each other more. Last year I don’t think we really clicked and trusted each other on the field like we should have. But this year, I see it. We’re really clicking.”
Larsen also said he sees the uptick in desire among this bunch. It’s something he’s longed to experience at Woodland since his freshman year.
“You can finally see how we’ve been wanting to get better and we’re wanting to go to practice and improve on what we need to improve on, instead of just going through the motions and doing it because we have to,” Larsen said. “We’re at a place now where our coaches trust us and we trust them. We know that if we do what they tell us to do, we can become something great.”