The last few years have been rough for the football team on Walker Road. Southwood has managed just four wins over the last four seasons combined and scored just 21 offensive points in a winless 2015.
Head coach Anthony McClain has reason for optimism as the 2016 kickoff approaches. McClain, now in his fifth year with the Cowboys, returns 14 starters, including eight on a defense that was better than the numbers indicated last year. Defensive coordinator Marty Guerrero’s unit hung tough with district rivals Byrd and Haughton, then held North Webster’s Devin White – now at LSU – under 50 yards rushing until the fourth quarter of a tough 16-7 loss in the season finale.
“Our strength is our defense, and we have experience on that side of the ball,” said McClain, who recently took over as athletic director in addition to his duties as football coach. “Jaden Barnhill is our Mike (middle) linebacker and he’s a three-year starter that makes the calls for our defense. Chris Johnson is another of our linebackers with experience, and he’ll also play some tight end for us. Our best player on defense might be Marquallius Turner. He’s another three-year starter that we’ll use at a rover position, moving between free safety and outside linebacker. He is not the biggest kid physically, but he plays with passion.”
The defensive line will be anchored by the duo of Emmanuel Bass and D’Terrious Lewis, a pair of seniors that tip the scales at 250 pounds each.
“Those guys have to play well for us to have success,” said McClain. “They have to take up blockers for the backers to make plays. A good deal of our defensive success depends on how well they play on a weekly basis.”
Offensively, there is nowhere to go but up for a team that averaged less than a field goal a game a year ago. Enter new offensive coordinator Cory Lewing, recently on Fair Park’s staff but with experience as a head coach at Green Oaks.
Lewing is installing the Wing-T offense to take better advantage of the strengths of the players on his roster. The offense relies on an intelligent signal caller to make the right reads, and senior Charlie Walsh will start under center for Southwood. Walsh will also get a challenge from his younger brother Cory for playing time at the position.
“We feel comfortable with Charlie back there,” said McClain. “We think he knows where to go with the ball and how to get us in the right position. Cory will get a look, but we feel good about Charlie.”
The Wing-T depends on durable running backs, and the Cowboys will rely on a pair of hard-working runners to make the offense move.
“Aaron Roshell will be our fullback,” said McClain. “Tough kid, plays bigger than his numbers (5-foot-10, 176 pounds). He’ll get us the hard yards between the tackles for the most part. Our wingback will be Gibrell Caldwell, and he brings a little more speed to the equation. Both are solid, dependable guys that we have confidence in.”
McClain points to Week 1 at Minden as a pivotal game for Southwood to show this year is going to be different than recent ones.
“We’ve got to go out and play with some intensity and have some success,” said McClain. “Minden is a tough place to play – and who knows what that place will be like that first game with their stadium issues. We want to go in there and beat a good team to get this turnaround started. If we can play well in that first week, it will make it easier to sell our kids on what we’re trying to do.”