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Cliff Williams / The Outlook Central Coosa’s Seketrius Milliner (52) will return as a starting linebacker this season for the Cougars.

A lot of doubts have surrounded the Central Coosa football program this offseason. 

Rumors have been flying maybe the Cougars wouldn’t even have a team. They did struggle to put together effective numbers and had only 12 players on the first official day of practice.

But that number has ballooned to 21 on the varsity roster, and coach Brett Thomas has even recruited two basketball players from the state championship team to head out to the gridiron.

Plus, Thomas, who has coached teams that are good, bad, ugly and in between, remains confident and is trying to do everything he can to get his players to feel that optimism.

“I feel very optimistic,” Thomas said. “I really do and I try to teach them to have this mindset. Every year I’ve coached, no matter what the team, I always believe we’re going to win. Even after we lose, the next game we’re going to win. That’s just how I’ve always approached it and I try to instill that in them.”

Although 21 players still isn’t a lot, it’s better than what the Cougars had last year and it’s not much less than a lot of other Class 2A teams. And the good news for Central Coosa is it’s playing in 2A Region 4 where after Thorsby and Reeltown, the next two playoff spots are really up for grabs. 

“Ultimately the goal for this season realistically is to make the playoffs,” Thomas said. “We’re not just saying we want to win one game or two games; no, we want to make the playoffs.”

Luckily, the Cougars have a guy like Donta Daniel who has been the spark of the Coosa offense for two seasons now. Daniel returns for his senior season and at running back, if Daniel can get into space, he will be extremely difficult for defenses to catch.

“He’s always been a great athlete, an outstanding athlete,” Thomas said, “but my expectation is that he’s going to set himself apart from the other players in 2A especially the running backs, just with his speed, his durability and his heart.”

Daniel has developed a strong relationship with starting quarterback Ryan Payne. Despite Payne playing his first year of football, Thomas said he’s looking forward to Payne using his athleticism and intelligence to guide the offense.

In front of them will also be a stronger offensive line. Levi Krause, Dawson Thornton and J.R. Chapman both return on the offensive line and they’ll be flanked by Cole Scott and Paul Robinson.

“With the addition of Cole and Paul, I like to see where it goes,” Thomas said. “Last year, we had an eighth-grader starting that had never played before, and even though Paul hasn’t played before, he’s a dump truck. He’s big. But you know, everybody looks good till the first hit.”

Coosa also looks to be fairly stacked at wide receiver with Dawson Duncan and Xavier Moon both returning; Noel Jones will also join the team at receiver and Quin Brooks will play tight end.

“The way that we’ve designed the offense, anybody is a target,” Thomas said. “Dawson is 6-foot-3 and he probably has a 6-7 wingspan. Noel has a jumping ability out of this world so we really are deep as far as receivers and with Donta coming out of the backfield. I feel pretty good about that.”

Krause, Chapman, Robinson and Brooks will make up the defensive line as Coosa will move to a 4-3 defense. Thorton and Seketrius Milliner both return as starting linebackers, which Jones will also play.

“We didn’t have that much time to prepare and actually a basic 4-3 defense is easier to teach,” Thomas said. “They don’t have as many assignments and we’re trying to make it as simple as possible.”

Although Coosa’s defense doesn’t boast a lot of size, Thomas is confident in its speed and what it can bring to the table in a simplified formation. 

Now it’s just about convincing the Cougars they can compete.

“Last year, we had some players that just didn’t believe in themselves,” Thomas said. “If I could just take a sliver of Levi and Donta’s heart, what’s inside of them, the intestinal fortitude and make sure everybody else had it, we might be playing into November.” 

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.