Senior leader

Woodland receiver Briar Morris was a playmaker and leader for the Bobcats during the 2019 season.

It’s another season with a losing record, another year of no playoffs at Woodland, which closed its season with a 35-6 loss to Donoho on senior night Friday. But while in years past the Woodland program has been bogged down in coaching changes and roster instability, head coach Blair Armstrong believes the momentum may have shifted for the better, despite a 1-9 finish to his first campaign with the Bobcats.

“The weirdest thing about it is, even after most of the losses – and I hate losing. Nobody hates losing more than me. I hate losing more than I like winning,” Armstrong said. “But for me when I’d evaluate it walking to the end of the field before I got ready to talk to them after the game, I was like you know what, we lost, but we got better. We got better every week, even the last week. We played hard. We knocked them around. We kept it close early. We’re learning. We’re learning football. So that’s a positive.”

Positive. It’s a word you don’t hear too often after one-win seasons, but it flows from Armstrong’s mouth repeatedly during his evaluation of where the program stands. Keeping that positivity flowing amid the circumstances of this season is a feat unto itself. Armstrong was hired just three weeks before the season after Jeremy Stanford’s late decision to leave the team for an assistant coaching job in Oxford in July.

Armstrong then was saddled with a daily 3-hour commute to and from Smiths Station for the first month of the season while his former school worked to fill the position he was leaving.

“I knew we were going to be behind the eight ball just from the whole situation of getting here late and everything,” he said.

Even amid all of that he was able to mine the school halls and nearly double the roster size in the three weeks leading up to the season.

And instead of setting goals in terms of wins and losses, he honed in on his team’s ability to play hard and improve, and to keep those newfound players – many of whom had never played before – invested in the program.

“It’s a process, but I felt like we definitely improved throughout the year,” Armstrong said. “There’s times when we should have done better, and there’s times when we didn’t step up like we should have. But as a whole, each game there was definitely some improvement.”

So they were successful on that front. And as for creating some stability on the roster?

“We feel pretty good about the ones that are out there because they’ve already been talking to other guys, and there’s already a good handful of them that plan on coming out in the spring,” Armstrong said. “Because they saw the excitement and the positive feelings that the kids had about the program and where we were going.”

There’s that word again. Positive.

And it sets the tone for Armstrong’s mentality going forward as well, despite the departure of two key seniors in Dale Robertson and Briar Morris.

“The two of those guys, they’ve stuck it out,” Armstrong said. “And I’ve told them how proud I was for them, through the tough times they’re still here. They never quit. They never got out of it. That’s a big deal for me. So I’ve leaned on them a lot. They’re just good kids, and hopefully they’ll get to play at the next level if they want to.”

Morris led the team in receiving with a county best 35 catches for 486 yards and four touchdowns. Robertson endured an emotionally and physically tumultuous season after his younger brother Samuel was killed in a car accident just before the start of fall practice. He then dealt with multiple ankle injuries that limited his on-field role in the second half of the year. But he was able to put a silver lining on the year and his career. Robertson’s final carry of his Woodland career was a 20-yard touchdown run that accounted for his team’s only points in the loss to Donoho.

“The last three or four games he wasn’t really functioning,” Armstrong said. “In fact he really kind of pushed through the pain Friday and finished the season. He didn’t want to not be able to play on senior night.”

And that kind of sums up Armstrong’s M.O. this whole season. The score may have said that Woodland lost. But within that overall negative result, there was something positive to brighten the day. And hopefully that’s a foreshadowing of brighter days to come for the Woodland Bobcats.

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