HORSE CAVE —
If the Caverna High School football team takes on the personality of its new coach, there could be a lot of excitement on Friday nights in Horse Cave this year.
Rodney Middleton, the long-time assistant coach for the Colonels, is a military veteran with boundless energy. He is in constant motion, always eager to get something done and ultra competitive.
Middleton, who was promoted this year to replace Jon Sindlinger, has been pushing his kids to get ready for the 2012 season.
“I like what I am seeing in preseason practice. We’re just making the small changes we need to make in personnel,” said Middleton, who has coordinated the Colonel defense for several seasons. “What we’re focusing on right now is at the running back position. We’ve got probably three good running backs, so it’s going to be running back by committee for us this year.”
The Colonels will be hoping to generate more offensive punch this season as Caverna struggled to put points on the board last season, going 4-7 in 2010 and 1-10 last year. The Colonels averaged only 11 points a game last season, while giving up 42 points per game.
“You’re going to see a lot of different sets on offense this season,” Middleton said. “ We’re still very young, but we’re going to run a controlled offense. I want to control the clock so I can control the tempo. I want to keep the opponent’s offense off the field.”
Senior Aaron Reed will handle the running duties for the Colonels. He will be joined in the backfield by DeAngelo Paul and Slade Jones. Devon Perry and McKenzie Jones should see time at the fullback position.
“Aaron Reed will handle most of the duties at running back,” Middleton explained. “We gave the ball a lot to Aaron last year, but we’re going to spread it around this year.”
Middleton said he could split time at quarterback this year between sophomores Anthony Phillips and Trevor Stephens. He said Phillips probably has a better arm, but Stephens has better feet and is a little more elusive. Middleton said a lot will depend on what the defense is giving him each Friday night.
The fate of the Colonels could rest on the shoulders of tackles Dalton Johnson and A.J. Shackleford. Johnson, a junior, is 6-3, 265; while Shackleford, a sophomore, stands 6-4, 260. Middleton hopes Caverna’s twin towers can be a solid anchor for the offensive line.
“Along the line, we will have Dalton Johnson and A.J. Shackleford at the tackles,” said Middleton. “Senior Justin Sturgeon should be at one guard with freshman Trevor Nichols at the other guard. Freshman Jesse Johnson will probably be at center.”
Senior Neelix Crain will play tight end and, depending on who is quarterback, Phillips and Stephens could see time at wide receiver. Senior Josh Davis will also spend time at the wideout.
Middleton, who has spent most of his coaching career with the defense, has made some changes on that side of the ball.
“Last year, we tried to run a 3-4. I didn’t think it fit our personnel. Towards the end of the season, the guys picked up their positions, but it took a lot of time,” said Middleton. “This year, we’re moving to a split four on defense.
“I am attack oriented. I know this season something is going to happen on every play. Someone is coming. We had a pretty good run with this formation a few years back. We’re hoping to stop the run and force people to throw.”
Johnson and Shackleford should get the nod along the defensive line as tackles. The defensive ends will probably be Sturgeon and Davis. Reed will get the call at linebacker with Dylan Gossett, McKenzie Jones and Slade Jones. Middleton said his front eight should play very aggressive.
“Our defense will key on our two big tackles,” Middleton said. “They have to stuff the middle for us and our defensive ends will have outside containment. And the way we’re organized, our linebackers should be able to run downhill for the tackle.”
One of Caverna’s strong points this year will be in the secondary. The Colonels return all three players from last year. George Boyd should start in the secondary with Stephens and Ricky Ochoa.
“Our secondary is so young, they had to learn on the job last year. They made some mistakes. And that’s OK. I believe you can’t make the same mistake twice,” said Middleton. “We’re probably going to play zone some. If our line does what it is suppose to do by stopping the run, our opponents passing the ball should be something we should look forward to.”
Middleton said he is taking extra care to focus on the special teams this season. The Caverna coach believes special teams usually decide a win or a loss each season. Johnson and Shackeford will handle the kicking duties for the Colonels.
Middleton is excited about the approaching season and the Colonels will open the year on Friday, Aug. 17, at home against Eminence. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.
“Injuries is our Achilles heel this year. We don’t have much depth so we can't afford to lose any of our key pieces,” the coach said. “That’s why we’ve been focusing on fitness and we’ve talked a lot about technique, trying to teach the kids to do the small things right.
“And it will be important for us to also develop trust for each other. You have to know the man to your right or your left is going to be there for you.”