Cabarrus

Cougars see early-season success on the ground

Cannon's ground attack has had a solid start to the season.

The Cougars averaged more than 570 rushing yards in their first two games - running for 617 yards in a 48-32 come-from-behind win over North Raleigh Christian before following that up with 532 yards in a 48-32 win against Westminster Catawba.

Four players - seniors Justin Redfern, Mason McClanahan and Jason Willix and junior Myles Martino - ran for more than 200 yards each in the team's first two games.

Redfern, the quarterback, was leading with 321 yards; he has the ability to break away and make big plays. McClanahan had powered his way to 257 yards from his fullback position, while Martino, a self-described "quick power back," had rushed for 233 yards. Willix had added 211 yards.

Speedy senior J.D. Wimbish has also made a big impact, running for 127 yards heading into last Friday's game against Victory Christian.

"They're not big, bruising backs, but they just run hard," Cannon coach Donnie Hayes said of the group. "They just refuse to go down."

Hayes credits his team's performance to the hard work it put in during the offseason and to his players' experience with the Cougars' double-wing system, an option-based offense focused largely on misdirection.

"These kids have been in this system for four years. They really understand it," said Hayes.

McClanahan, the fullback, said with 16 seniors on the roster, the Cannon offense - from the line to its skill players - has a sense of timing that helps the team execute well.

"We can put pretty much anyone in the backfield, and if they know what they're doing, the line can take care of the rest," said McClanahan.

Praises for the undersized line - senior left tackle Wil Safrit, senior left guard Matt Favero, senior center Jake Marchant, senior right guard Kevin Ross and junior right tackle Hans-Jacob Lindback - didn't stop there.

"They have perfect technique," said Wimbish. "The intensity they bring every game, every play, is just ridiculous."

Julian Nunez and Ryan Creuzberger have also played key roles in blocking for Cougar runners in the double-tight-end system. Senior lineman Jamie Jackson has seen key minutes helping keep the line fresh.

Martino said the offense as a whole gets along well. That chemistry seems to be translating onto the field.

"Together we work hard and encourage each other," said Martino. "We're just one big family."

The Cougars' 1,149 rushing yards in their first two games were already more than half the 2,240 yards they had last season. Hayes said opponents have a hard time stopping his team, even though they expect the team to run the ball.

"We get more people to the point of attack than defenses usually can," said Hayes.

That kind of play can take its toll on defenses - physically and mentally.

"We just wear other teams down," said Wimbish. "Every single play, we're coming hard, so that constant pounding will wear and tear D-lines and the defense as a whole."

Hayes said most of the schools his Cougars face run spread offenses, which are far from the "bruising, in-your-face" style his team has. It's hard for teams to replicate the complex Cannon system in practice and get ready to face the team.

He added that this year his team has been more explosive. Last season the team's longest run was 53 yards, but this year that mark has been surpassed several times. The shortest touchdown run in the team's opener was 45 yards; the longest was from 76 yards out.

"That makes a big difference," he said.

After the team went 5-4 in its inaugural varsity football season last year, Redfern admitted he had high expectations for his Cannon team going into this year.

"While last year was successful, we wanted more," he said. "With this kind of start, we've been pretty much unstoppable. It's a great feeling and confidence booster."

Reassurance that the team can compete is key.

"It shows us that we're going to be able to hang with anybody and maybe even make a run for a state championship," said Redfern.

But Willix said he and his teammates won't let early-season success go to their heads, knowing they will continue to be seen as underdogs the rest of the year.

"Right now we don't have a lot of believers. Even at school, people don't think we can do it," he said. "We're going out on Fridays trying to prove people wrong."

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