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TAMPA — Like Bobby Bowden, to whom he delivered bus loads of five-star recruits as FSU’s recruiting coordinator, Tallahassee Godby coach Ronnie Cottrell is an Alabama native with the Southern twang and self-effacing nature to prove it.
But even Cottrell, who spent eight years in Bowden’s employment, isn’t bashful about suggesting he has gotten more mileage out of his team than just about any other in the state.
Currently, the odometer reads 788 round-trip miles.
When the Cougars (12-1) return to the Panhandle after Friday’s Class 5A state semifinal at Robinson (12-1), they will have bused 1,362 miles during the playoffs alone.
“This is a very tiring process,” Cottrell said.
Credit the convergence of geography and bracketology with sending Godby on a playoff odyssey the equivalent of a one-way bus ride from Tampa to Boston.
As a district runnerup (which always travels when facing a district champ in the first three rounds), the Cougars have played in Pensacola, Crawfordville and Jacksonville the past three Fridays.
The state semifinal host is predetermined, but the Cougars caught no break there, either. This year, the FHSAA’s 5A bracket calls for the Region 2 champ (Robinson) to host. As a result, Godby’s in for a 574-mile round-trip journey today.
The Knights, by contrast, have been at home throughout the playoffs. “It’s been a very, very difficult road,” Cottrell said.
“There’s not a tougher place to play than there at Robinson. They’ve really developed quite a home advantage, if you will, not to mention the logistics of getting from Tallahassee to South Tampa.”
But this is where one becomes leery of Cottrell’s poor-mouthing artistry. If the Cougars’ tank is tapped out, they haven’t shown it. To the contrary, Godby has been a sleek model of turbo-charged offensive efficiency in the postseason.
“They’re a big-play, quick-strike team,” Knights coach Mike DePue said.
Godby, expected to employ an Oregon-style breakneck tempo, averages 42 points, scoring 64 last week at Jacksonville Bishop Kenny. First-year starting quarterback J.T. Bradwell, who waited two years for the first-team gig, has thrown for 2,230 yards and 19 TDs.
He’s also one of five Cougars with at least 365 rushing yards. The bell cow back — when they need one — is 175-pound senior Khalid Thomas (1,260 yards, 13 TDs), a University of Kentucky commitment.
Only a couple of offensive players go both ways, Cottrell said.
“You get to this level, you expect a fast-paced game,” DePue said. “They try to get you out of position and not in the right formation. They run multiple formations, so we’ve got to be ready for that. It’s a challenge. It’s a challenge.”
Yet as mountainous as the task might seem to DePue, Cottrell can make his team’s challenge appear Himalayan by comparison.
He calls Robinson “definitely the best football team we’ve played.” He says his staff has had to keep things simple for his offensive line, younger and a bit smaller than Robinson’s.
And he’s shameless in his praise of Knights quarterback Zain Gilmore and two-way lineman Bruce Hector.
“The only way that we can play with these guys, because they’re so big and physical, is we can’t make mistakes,” Cottrell said.“(Gilmore) is their glue and he’s just made everything work. No. 60 (Hector), I spent a lot of years recruiting high school football players for college, and he’s a special kid.
“I just don’t see any weakness in their team.”