Following a rather pedestrian effort by his Miners in a 20-0 loss to Lakeland Kathleen, Jemalle Cornelius skipped the usual post-game team huddle and sent his squad straight to the locker room with the words, “A loss is a loss, I don’t care when it is… Get to the locker room and don’t stop to talk or visit.”
Entering his fifth year as the Miner head coach, Cornelius makes no bones about his desire to win each and every game, with a focus on competitive excellence — giving your best when your best is required. But Jemalle has proven he also wants to win the right way, with an emphasis on composure and character.
That is why last Friday’s loss had the head coach concerned.
“We didn’t come out and play well,” said Cornelius. “We never got in a rhythm on offense. Made a couple of good passes, but just never got into a rhythm. But my biggest concern tonight was attitude. We had some guys bickering and complaining. We need a group of guys that are unselfish and willing to not talk but play hard, the way this game is supposed to be played. But our issues are not as much personnel as attitude.”
You can bet your Miner yard sign those issues will be dealt with by Cornelius and staff before the fall campaign, along with the development of the defense, led this year by John O’Neal, former defensive coordinator at Auburndale, and the offensive line, under the tutelage of returning Coach Tim Grant. Both have plenty of player material to work with, especially when a handful of transfers, compliments of new Fort Meade academies add on this fall.
Cornelius was pleased with the defensive effort for the most part.
“I felt like the defense played well in spurts. But the lack of consistency on offense put a lot of pressure on those guys and tired them out,” he noted. “That led to giving up plays and the Kathleen drives.”
Defensive standouts on Friday were rising seniors Hewitt Grant, in on several quarterback sacks, and Trey Porter, who wreaked havoc all night. Known for his intelligence as much as his hard-hitting style, Porter provided the defensive highlight of the night.
With Fort Meade trailing 7-0 midway through the second quarter and Kathleen on the move in Miner territory, the heady linebacker jumped a Red Devil crossing pattern, picking off the pass and returning the ball 40 yards to the Devil 30 yard line. Though the Miners eventually turned the ball over on downs inside the 20 yard line, Coach O’Neal had to be pleased with Porter’s effort, along with that of his teammates.
The offense might have been more productive had they not been missing some key components on Friday. With a number of players out due to injury or other reasons, the patchwork offensive line fought valiantly but failed to create the holes needed for Fort Meade’s running back trio of Isham Alexander, Tyler King and Ryan Fulse. The three were held to 11 carries for a total of just six yards. In fact, the Miner’s leading ball carriers were quarterbacks Jay Smith — three carries for 20 yards — and Connor Slay with a bootleg play of eight yards.
The Miner passing game was just slightly more productive, with Jay Smith connecting on eight throws for 96 yards in the air. Look for receiver Tobias Culpepper to shine this fall. The senior wideout hauled in four Smith passes for 69 yards, with one going for 38 yards on a fine catch by Culpepper. Primed for a great final season, the Miner playmaker also will play cornerback and return kicks this fall.
With spring ball behind them, it should be a busy summer for the Miners with 7-on-7 tournaments, weightlifting and conditioning workouts to fill the dog days of June and July. Then there’s fall camp in August and, before you know it, the Miners are traveling to face Lake Region in the Fall Classic on Friday, Aug. 23.
But Miner players should be on notice. Coach Cornelius plans on reminding his players of last Friday’s results all summer long.
“We’ll go to work on all areas this summer,” said the Miner head coach. “But I hope this humbles us tonight… Everyone should come to workouts this summer with humble hearts.”