Cornerstone still basking in 7-man state title

Cornerstone Academy football coach Tim Johnson poses with his seven seniors at the Cougars' practice field.

Matt Stamey / Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, December 24, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 23, 2013 at 11:45 p.m.

Nearly a week after winning their first state title in 7-man football, Cornerstone's players are still wearing their smiles just as predominantly as championship medals.

Though many of the Cougars have already migrated to the basketball team or to part-time jobs after school, the memory of Dec. 14's 56-33 win over Ave Maria Donahue Catholic in Lakeland in the final of the Florida Christian Association of Private and Parochial Schools league remains fresh.

“It was four years of hard work, and you get to the finish, and it's something final, a final bang,” Cornerstone senior Jake Altom said. “It felt really good.”

Led by Altom's team-high 2,550 total yards and 44 touchdowns as a Wildcat quarterback, receiver and running back, the undefeated Cougars cruised through their 12-game season by an average margin of 42.7 points.

Last year, Cornerstone lost in the FCAPPS state semifinals for the second straight season to the eventual state champion. The Cougars were in their first year of playing 7-man football in 2012, after two previous seasons as a 6-man squad.

“Neither Jake or I were athletic in our first year,” said David Cook, a senior middle linebacker who made 160 tackles this season. “We both started because it was a small-school startup program, and we didn't really have many people. But just going from freshmen fresh out of middle school to seniors leading the team, it is an incredible change. It's not just emotionally there, it's sentimental to see all the growth.”

Cook attributes much of the team's progress to the calming presence of head coach Tim Johnson, 43, who is in his second year with the team.

A former UCF free safety in early 1990s, Johnson helped institute a defensive mindset to the high-paced and even higher scoring tendencies of 7-man football.

“You knew everybody's focus was to just outscore the other opponent, so I would say 70 percent of our practice time was around playing defense,” Johnson said. “Everybody in the league pretty much plays straight man-to-man, where nobody has the personnel to play straight man-to-man. But I guess that's just the easiest thing to tell your kids to do.”

Mixing in a variety of man and zone defenses, the Cougars, who held four opponents to eight or fewer points, forced 40 combined interceptions and fumbles this season, while only committing 14 on offense. In the state title game, Donahue coughed up five turnovers.

While Cornerstone is set to lose seven seniors off this year's 18-player roster, Johnson said the Cougars are already building for a new challenge in the 23-team FCAPPS.

“The league is talking about moving to 8-man next year, just because nobody plays 7-man,” Johnson said. “Our league wants to move to 8-man, because it's more recognized. And also they feel that's a good way to grow, because some of the 11-man teams that struggle may be more willing to step down.”

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