COAHOMA — Decimated by injuries in 2012, The Coahoma Bulldogs — who expected a playoff berth at the very least — were forced to settle for a 2-8 record. With just about every starter absent at some point during the season, CHS Head Coach Trey Gardner had to improvise. He played backups, he pulled guys from junior varsity, he changed up positions — anything to keep 11 relatively healthy players on the field.
The result was a hard-fought season the team can be proud of, despite the lopsided record. That’s not pity-speak, either. In the midst of the injuries, Coahoma stunned Sonora with a 27-21 victory and helped provide Crossroads football fans with one of the most thrilling games of the year in a shootout with rival Forsan. The Bulldogs lost 30-27 in the first game to kick off in the state of Texas, but it could have gone the other way just as easily.
So what is in store for Coahoma football fans this season? According to Gardner, it’s finding a new identity as he coaches a very young squad.
“We’re going to be real young,” Gardner, who is entering his fourth year as head coach of the Bulldogs said. “We knew three years ago that this would be a rebuilding year for us. You never know what you’re going to get with young kids. They may be ready to play, or they may need a year to adjust. They have a lot to learn.”
With so many underclassmen getting playing time as a result of the myriad injuries last season, Gardner sees a potential silver lining.
“A lot of these guys got experience last year because of the injuries,” Gardner said. “Braxten Iden’s a junior, he will be our quarterback, he saw a lot of playing time last year. Our J.V. Team — even though we robbed from them every week — managed to go 9-1. That bodes well down the road. The guys we have are working hard.”
About 50 kids have reported to two-a-days and gardner doesn’t expect much of a fluctuation. He is counting on Iden to remain under center barring any injuries. One of the biggest question marks will be the offensive line, which was gutted upon graduation.
“That’s one concern, we were hit hard by graduation,” Gardner said. “We will have Joe Melendez back at linebacker. He’s a junior who saw a lot of playing time as a sophomore. We won’t have Tanner Ruiz in the backfield this year, either. We don’t have a go-to guy who will get 20 or 30 carries per game. It will be more by committee.”
Gardner will run his signature Wing-T offense again, but said this year he will rely on speed and utilize the passing game more than he has in the past.
“We will stick with the Wing-T offense, but with some new wrinkles,” Gardner explained. “We will spread it around a little. We may put in the air a little more than I’m comfortable with. I’d like to run the ball all day, every day, but if that isn’t going to work for us, we will change it up.”
Gardner advises the fans to keep on eye on returning players such including Iden, Melendez, wing back Cage Miller who is returning from a torn ACL which sidelined him most of last year and Shanen Warneke. Newcomers to watch out for include Garrett Parrish, Paul Cortez and Zak Walton — some of whom suited up last year out of necessity.
Big challenges lie ahead for Gardner. But one thing you count on from Coahoma athletes is grit. It was that grit which enabled a down-and-out team, ravaged by injuries to show up, plug the holes and play respectable games each and every week. Fans can at least expect that much this season.
Adversity or not, Gardner hasn’t written this season off as a losing one just yet.
“We’re not going to be the fastest or the biggest team,” Gardner added. “We’re going to have to outwork them. The kids understand that. Now we just have to see if they can answer the call. The guys that are out there will work their tails off. Our kids are going to play hard. It’s a tough district, but our goal is to make the playoffs.”