Many people don’t realize how special 2017 was for the White County Warriors. Legendary coach Tim Cokely, who won multiple state titles in Florida, took the job in Cleveland and turned a 1-9 program into a 7-win juggernaut that nearly upset powerhouse Jefferson Dragons in the playoffs.
That’s an epic turnaround, and the ripple effects of that season can be felt throughout the program.
“Our players learn how to practice, how to compete against each other,” says Cokely. “If you don’t practice well, you don’t play well. I think the guys this year learned from last year how to practice and how to prepare.”
For the Warriors, they will have a different look primarily in the run game, as they departed from Kaleb Crane, one of the state’s leading rushers and a complimentary piece in Bailey Anderson.
“I’ve been a head coach since 1995, and I’ve really never had a guy like Kaleb who carried the ball 30 times a game,” says Cokely. “We’re losing a great one with Kaleb, 30 carries a game, durable and tough, but I like to spread it around a little more…guys like Jared Jullian, Kurtis Havlen and Michael Mintz…all those guys will share the carries. I always like to balance my team out that way. We have guys that will want to step up and emulate what he did.”
There are other players, such as receivers Austin Rowland and Ty Ulrich, that also must be replaced. Fortunately for the Warriors, they return standout wideout Cody Versluis and sophomore quarterback J Ben Haynes.
“Our quarterback is another year older,” says Cokely about the signal-caller. “He understands where we want to go with the ball, he can gets us in and out of plays that matter. It’s really a neck-up position, and that’s what he’s worked on this offseason.”
Haynes passed to the tune of 1,500 yards with 15 TD last season, completing 60% of his passes.
The defense will look to lock it up a bit more in 2018 after allowing over 28 points per contest last season. However, Cokely suggests that those numbers might be a bit misleading.
“Some of that’s on the offense,” says Cokely. “If we’re going to hurry and we’re going to hike the ball every eight seconds, no one is going to keep people out of the end zone. Say what you want, teams that spread it out and hurry up give up points. We don’t need to give up 28 a game – okay. I think once we play, we’ll be a more deliberate team than last year – we have seven starters coming back on defense.”
The Warriors get a final tune-up for the season on Friday night at home against Stephens County in a scrimmage. Cokely says the game will be pretty normal, but no live kicks.
“We just want to do what we do this week,” adds Cokely about the scrimmage. “It’s really not us and them, it’s more about us and us and how we’re going to prepare for the season. It’s fun for our guys, fun for the community and it’ll be a fun night.”