2016 All-County Coach of the Year: Cantrell led Wildcats to record-setting season
The News Courier 12/24/16 by Jonathan Deal
West Limestone didn't have the biggest team. They weren't the fastest or most athletic group in the state.
The 2016 West Limestone football team had something an outside wouldn't notice and took more than two years to earn it.
“It” is hard to put a finger on. Some would call it chemistry or unselfishness. Whatever “it” was, it carried West Limestone to its first nine-win season in school history. The architect behind one of the most successful team's in school history was third-year head coach Jordan Cantrell, who is the News Courier's 2016 Coach of the Year.
“It was about all of them,” said Cantrell. “There were only 33 of them that could withstand the high expectations we had and be held accountable for that. There was a bond like no other among these guys. That's why we had the best team in school history.”
Cantrell had a rocky start to his coaching career, playing five playoff-bound teams in his first five games. After starting 0-5, Cantrell's team finished the season 3-2 and carried momentum in to last season. That team went 8-4 and upset a ranked Saks team on the road in the first round.
“We were a close group then, but we were young,” said Cantrell. “We knew that they were going to be something special, because they bought in when we were 3-7. The effort and bond was always there. We knew that we were building something.”
Most of the players from that 2015 team returned for this year, including All-State selections Chase Lancaster and Reed Blankenship. With expectations at an all-time high in Lester, Cantrell's team met them and more.
West Limestone finished the regular season 9-1 with victories over Tanner, East Limestone and Deshler. They beat a talented Madison County team in the first round of the playoffs and narrowly lost to Cherokee County on the last play of the game in the second round of the playoffs.
As close as this group of players are it made it that much tougher to lose one of their own when senior Cole Smith was killed in a car accident Thanksgiving night.
“They are the closest group of young men I've been around,” said Cantrell. “I know we didn't win a state championship, but I don't know of any other organization in football that was close as this group. It's really helped us get over some tough times the last few weeks.”