No late letdowns

After last season ended with a four-game skid, the Cowboys seek to remain strong throughout.

Published August 25, 2006

TAMPA - Halfway through the 2005 season, Gaither was a sparkling 4-1, playing some of its best football in years and eyeing its first playoff berth since 2000.

But optimism gave way to disappointment as the Cowboys' season collapsed under a 1-4 finish, including four straight losses to end the year. But coach Mark Kantor, entering his fifth season, prefers to look at the positives.

"It was so many little things," Kantor said of his team's late-season letdown that included three loses by a total of 10 points. "Mental mistakes killed us and we had nothing left in the tank. We just ran out of gas."

With key returners in pivotal positions this season, Kantor hopes his troops will have plenty of gas to not only start strong but be in the middle of the Class 5A, District 5 playoff chase come November.

THROUGH THE AIR: The Cowboys return five starters on offense, none more key than quarterback John Chesnut. A senior, Chesnut is a three-year starter with a command of Kantor's multiple-I offense. Chesnut passed for more than 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns last year and will again have big targets in wide receiver John Lullen (6-2, 185 pounds) and tight end Justin Lattimore (6-3, 205). Add senior DeAaron McCann and freshman Allen Sampson to the receiver mix and Chesnut should have plenty of opportunities to move the offense downfield.

ON THE GROUND: The Cowboys graduated one of the county's top rushers in Jonathan Davis but Kantor plans to insert sophomore Jarvis Giles into the starting running back slot. Giles may be inexperienced but will have the benefit of running behind a veteran offensive line.

Center Joel Leonard and left guard James Blair are returning starters, and right tackle Luigi Destino saw plenty of work last season. Kantor said this group's continuity should determine how successful his offense is.

"These guys have been together a while now and we are going to rally around these seniors," said Kantor, 19-23 as Gaither's coach. "We have experience on the line, at quarterback and with our receivers. We expect to play well."

DEFENSE: With just four starters coming back on defense, the Cowboys will feature a new defensive front, mostly with players who won their jobs during spring drills.

That might not bode well for a defense that struggled in the second half of the year, but the Cowboys can count on linebacker Mike Whitescarver, a returning junior and physical presence in the middle.

The secondary is the strong part of the defense with corners John Jean-Baptiste and Robert Harvey and strong safety Zack Henderson all returning.

"We're going to play hard for four quarters," Kantor said. "And we know we have to get after it every down for every game."