50 in 50: Valdosta

Valdosta enters its final week of spring practice Monday still searching for a new quarterback and rebuilding an offensive line that lost all five starters.

It’s looking like a three-player race to replace Shelby Wilkes, who passed for more than 1,700 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. No other player had meaningful snaps behind center in 2012, when Valdosta finished 7-4.

Mac Loudermilk, a rising senior who started at H-Back and tight end last year, is trying to win the job ahead of rising juniors Cole Massingill and Craig Berry. The three have different skill sets, says Valdosta coach Rance Gillespie.

‘’Mac is a bigger kid [6-foot-1, 228  pounds] and a really good athlete and does a good job with all the stuff we do in our run game with the added dimension of being a good runner,,’’ Gillespie said. “With Cole, you think that’s what a D-1 quarterback should look like. He’s 6-3, 190 pounds. He looks the part, and he’s a more prototypical drop-back passer with really good feet, but he’s not the runner of the three. Then [Craig] Berry is a mix between the two and maybe the best athlete.’’

The quarterback will have weapons around him. Running backs Nelson Herring and Malcolm Joseph will be three-year starters. Each rushed for more than 800 yards last season and are college prospects. So is Alex Cason, a receiver, has offers from mid-major programs.

‘’Obviously the two running backs are really good players, and that will be a strength offensively,’’ Gillespie said. “Alex is a big-play threat for us at receiver, and we feel we’ll have a quarterback who’ll develop in that position who can get the ball out to him.’’

The offense line is losing four players who got at least honorable-mention recognition on the all-region team last season.  But Gillespie doesn’t sound anxious despite a senior class of only 28, about 10 below normal.

‘’It’s a concern any time you’ve only got three returning [starters on offense], but if this program is functioning the way it should, that is going to be something that becomes typical,’’ Gillespie said. “It’s not a fun to go through in the spring, but if you have good numbers and participation, you hope that you’ve got a lot of [rising] seniors who are ready to play.’’

The defense should be a good unit. The top player is probably rising senior Darrius Sapp, a second-team all-region player on the defensive line last season.

Three of four in the secondary return, including cornerback Demarcus Rhym. Rising senior Anthony Smith was the team’s top linebacker last season and will be in the middle again.

‘’I think we’ll be better on that side because of the experience that some of those guys got last year,’’ Gillespie said. “But even with seven back, that’s probably on three seniors. We’re talking about some upcoming juniors who started as 10th graders.’’

Special teams is not a worry. Loudermilk was an all-region punter and is being recruited by SEC schools as a specialist. He had two punts of more than 65 yards against Lowndes. The top place-kicker, rising junior Brennon Goodson, also returns.

Valdosta Wildcats at a glance

2012 record: 7-4, lost in first round to North Cobb 42-14.
Starters returning: 3 offense, 7 defense.
Key players lost: QB Shelby Wilkes, DE Chuntony Johnson, WR Sherrod Inman, OL Jamal Hunter, OL Ronnie Stoney, OL Quincy Jones, DE Eli Thomas
Key players returning: RB Nelson Herring, RB Malcolm Joseph, WR Alex Cason, P/QB Mac Loudermilk, DL Darrius Sapp, MLB Anthony Smith, CB Demarcus Rhym

Spring practice dates: May 6-18
Schedule:

30-Aug –  Thomas County Central

6-Sep – Brooks County

13-Sep – Crisp County

20-Sep –  Newton

27-Sep – at  Camden County

11-Oct – at  Lowndes

18-Oct –  Tift County

25-Oct – at  Colquitt County

1-Nov –  Brunswick

8-Nov –  Coffee
Outlook: Valdosta has lost in the first round each of the past two seasons, and the 42-14 loss to North Cobb last year was sobering. Reversing the trend will be a challenge for a couple of reasons. One is that Region 1-AAAAAA makes it tough to play at home in the first round (only the top two teams get that honor), and Valdosta must travel this season to its three biggest Region 1 rivals – Camden County, Lowndes and Colquitt County. The next biggest challenge is that all five 2012 starters on the offensive line are gone. Valdosta probably will be picked to finish fourth in the region. But this is a well-coached program with plenty of players waiting their turn, so the goal won’t be just making the playoffs. The opener against Thomas County Central – the first TCC-Valdosta meeting in over 25 years – will be a great early test.

25 comments Add your comment

Jacketaxe

May 13th, 2013
6:16 am

Past history, them days done gone.

57Cat

May 13th, 2013
8:19 am

We’ve talked about it and have decided that we may as well go ahead and play the schedule. We can’t beat McPherson with all the VHS transfers and we can’t beat any school named Camden no matter who the coach is. It is comforting that Coach Gillespie will beat Coach Probst/Propst no matter where he coaches; he has his number. So, if we sweep our @home Region 1 rivals (no given) we should make the playoffs. We like our Brooks County neighbors and would like to see them Nationally ranked and State champs; not sayin’ we’ll throw the game. We aren’t built that way, but we won’t cry if we lose. Same can be said for TCC, but less vigorously. Brooks and TCC aren’t Region games, after all. I will predict that the Cats will compete statewide and nationally the next two years. Bksmith14 won’t agree with that – he’ll probably swallow his teeth – but you heard it first. Write it down.

57Cat

May 13th, 2013
8:21 am

…heard it here first.

Jefferson

May 13th, 2013
8:23 am

Brooks faded like old Levis.

sportsnut

May 13th, 2013
10:34 am

Good Luck Wildcats.

DOSTA DAWG

May 13th, 2013
12:20 pm

This years team reminds me of the 2011 Valdosta team that won the region championship.

DOSTA DAWG

May 13th, 2013
12:24 pm

This Valdosta team reminds me of the 2011 team that won the region championship. This team is young, but very athletic. Coach Gillespie will have to tweak the offense to more of a “READ OPTION” type system. The 2 RB’s will be special and the defense will be fast and athletic just like the 2011 team.

Golden Isles Fan

May 13th, 2013
2:02 pm

It’s going to be very interesting in this tough region ……new coaches, rebuilding teams, and teams that were close last year…..I would not count out Coffee………..

Whoz53

May 13th, 2013
5:14 pm

Valdosta is a 5-AAAAA school competing at the 6A level. EGO (Everything Going Okay) is not the order of the day here. Things are NOT OK! Let go of the ego thing and drop a class. A championship is a championship. Drop to 5-AAAAA and regain your place as Top Cats! Go Cats!

Whoz53

May 13th, 2013
5:17 pm

VHS seem to have the right coach who knows his X’s and O’s but he lacks a plethora of the Willies’ and the Joes to dominate a tough region.

Coffeec100

May 13th, 2013
8:30 pm

As long as Valdosta is representing well in 6A. And they are. Tradition almost demands they stay in 6A. Nothing would break the Cats spirit worse than dropping to 5A. Attitude counts for a lot.

Wildhawg2012

May 13th, 2013
9:18 pm

Well i see the wildcats are in here. Good luck this season and boy you guys are going to need it. 57Cat don’t sound so sad. I do understand it will be a long season but at least let it start before u throw in the towel.Whoz53 thats a true statement

57Cat

May 13th, 2013
9:46 pm

WILDHAWG 2012: I haven’t thrown in the towel, just recognizing that we are in a transition year. This is Gillespie’s fourth year of putting his program in place. I believe we will start seeing the results of that next year when everyone on the varsity will have been running the system since 7/8th grade. That’s why I predict big things for us next year and the year after. Has your coach come up with something to keep from losing to the Cats every year to Coach Gillespie?

JustTheFacts

May 13th, 2013
10:19 pm

Whoz53, sorry to burst your bubble. Valdosta has 6A numbers. A lot of people get that one wrong and think Valdosta is playing up but check the last reclass numbers. Cats are near the bottom of 6A, but they are in 6A. That may change when they redo it after this year but I would expect that Cats to play up regardless. They can obviously compete and all of your rivals (money games) are in 6A. The state has caught up with the Cats, no doubt. But there’s plenty of talent to compete and one of the best coaches in the state.

wildcat for life

May 14th, 2013
7:08 am

they won’t win with this gillespie guy coaching this finesse offense, need a new coach who will get us back to the old smash mouth physical play like we used to have

dagrapevine

May 14th, 2013
7:44 am

valdosta runs a high school version of the same offense that alabama and georgia runs.what’s finesse about that?they had 1600 yds rushing and 1800 yds passing last season.i call that pretty good balance.
gillespie’s the man and he certainly didnt inherit a program from tomberlin,
who didnt from darlington,who took over a program from o’brien on life support.the next 2 years the players coming up have been playing and winning championships at the middle school.those players will allow gillespie to get his complete playbook in.
valdosta should play where their numbers are and if that is going down to 5a a couple of years so be it.when they build that new high school and all those new atheletic facilities along with a new feild house,indoor practice facility and new football stadium at the new high school,the school will be growing and back up in 6a again.even if valdosta drops to 5a they will still play colquitt,lowndes and tifton as non region games.

57Cat

May 14th, 2013
8:24 am

I don’t know who “Wildcat for Life” is, but he don’t know squat about Valdosta, football and Gillespie.

VALDAWGSTA

May 14th, 2013
3:03 pm

dagrapevine

May 14th, 2013
3:35 pm

57cat,you got that right.gillespie is closer to bazemore in program struture and game planning than any coach we’ve ever had.it took hyder 5 years to win a state title(tie) and 9 years to out right win one.
geeze give the man some time will you.

Wildhawg2012

May 14th, 2013
6:11 pm

57Cat u are right we have lost to the cats i’ll give u that but in 4 years what has your coach done besides that.i just think your coach is not ready nor does he know how to get those mighty cats ready for any team outside of Colquitt and Lowndes.And the playoffs are a whole nother animal and well we all see what happens then to u guys.Look i am not knocking the kids cause Valdosta will always have really good football players so thats not the problem its leadership.And dagrapevine what are u talkin about with this give the man some time crap!! THIS IS VALDOSTA HIGH FOOTBALL!!!! The team is a winning team,the fans expect to win and support the team wholeheartedly and the coach has players who been ready to be a Wildcat even before they were born!!! So everything is in place for success the coach just needs to bring his playbook!! your coach just needs a stronger playbook or your team needs a stronger coach!!

FootballTopFan(c)

May 15th, 2013
12:49 pm

FootballTopFan(c) would like to congratulate the Valdosta Wildcats and head coach Rance Gillespie on a solid football program.

Valdosta has one of the most historic program in Georgia high school football history.

The Wildcats are striving to regain their past glory.

Football Top Fan supports high school football.

Titletown USA

May 15th, 2013
1:15 pm

Valdosta was at the very bottom of the list for 6A numbers, but that in itself is misleading if you count the estimated number of dropouts and alternative school students who will never come close to the playing field. I understand the rationale behind continuing to play in 6A, but as long as they do, we can expect for 7-4, 6-5, and possibly 8-2 seasons with early playoff exits. As long as the Wildcat faithful can live with that, then by all means continue into a state of 6A mediocrity.

Whoz53

May 15th, 2013
8:47 pm

Very stimulation discussion going on the Cats. VHS has TRADITION and always field a competitive team. Being that VHS is a city school, the new high school should dilute LHS program a bit. By the way, when will that school come online? I’ve followed VHS football for over forty years and follow them very closely during the season. I would love to see them return to being a perennial top 5 team an make a run for the title on a consistent bases. Looking forward to a tough “Black and Blue” season in Region One. Go Cats!

dagrapevine

May 16th, 2013
9:37 am

land has been purchased and surveyed.plan and design are now complete.will be put out for bid in the coming weeks.school should be opened in the next 3/4 years.
in spite of what folks think,i suspect the ghsaa crunches the numbers to keep valdosta in the top classification for the purpose of keeping region 1 and its money gates in tact as well as keeping as many quality attractive programs for play-off gates.
i’m sure there are more than a few programs in 5a who would just as soon see valdosta stay in 6a.they move down in anyone of 2 regions and somebody aint making the play-offs no more.

Whoz53

May 19th, 2013
3:11 pm

Thanks for the info on the new school dagrapevine. Region one is a CASH cow for the association.