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Region I, Div. 4 Football: Cougars’ little big man

CHRIS CARPENTER BUILDING A STRONG REPUTATION

BY TAFT COGHILL JR.

Chris Carpenter doesn’t study film like the average high school football player.

The Courtland senior cornerback is meticulous. He watches the stance of opposing wide receivers. He looks for any motion that might provide a hint of what they’ll do next.

    HIGH SCHOOL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

    ~ FRIDAY’S GAME

    Northwest Region, Division 6 final

    Colonial Forge (10–2) at C.D. Hylton (9–2), 7:30

    ~ SATURDAY’S GAMES

    Northwest Region, Division 5 final

    Mountain View (8–4) at North Stafford (10–1), 2

    Region I, Division 4 final

    Courtland (8–4) at Smithfield (10–1), 1:30

    Region I, Division 3 final

    Park View–S. Hill (10–2) at James Monroe (10–1), 1:30

    SEE ALSO: Complete VHSL Schedule

He also studies what plays quarterbacks change at the line of scrimmage, their steps and their drops.

It all came together last Friday night on one momentum-building first-half interception.

Carpenter jumped in front of a screen pass intended for Chancellor standout wide receiver Chris Holmes. He made a diving interception and the Cougars went on to a 23–20 victory in the Region I, Division 4 semifinals.

Courtland (8–4) will play for the regional championship for the third straight season when it visits Smithfield (10–1) on Saturday.

“As a defensive back, if you can in any way bait a quarterback into thinking he’s seeing one thing and you do another, that’s pretty special,” Courtland coach J.C. Hall said. “And that’s exactly what [Carpenter] did Friday night.”

Carpenter has earned all-Battlefield District and all-Region I recognition at cornerback for the second straight season.

He showed why against the Chargers. Assigned to stay with the 6-foot-2 Holmes 90 percent of the game, he held the N.C. State recruit and all-Battlefield receiver to one catch for 14 yards.

Hall tossed one game ball to his father, defensive coordinator Jim Hall, after the game. He threw another to Carpenter, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 158 pounds.

“Being alone with a big-name guy or a tall receiver and doing good against him,” Carpenter said, “that’s the best feeling ever.”

Hall played on the same Courtland teams as Carpenter’s father, Mike, in the late 1980s. He said that when Chris Carpenter was a junior varsity running back as a freshman he knew he would eventually help the varsity program.

“I thought he had a lot of talent,” Hall said. “He was small, so you were hoping he’d develop and grow a little bit. He developed, but he didn’t grow. We’ll take that.”

Hall might’ve seen Carpenter’s talent level, but his leadership skills have progressed over the years.

Hall said that because of Carpenter’s passion for football, he has become the pulse of the team. He said that when the player whom coaches and teammates call “Zeke” is happy or upset, so are the rest of the Cougars.

“That shocks me because I joke a lot,” Carpenter said. “But I do know when to get serious. I guess they like that about me.”

Carpenter said his leadership style is light-hearted, but firm. He plays pranks on teammates and jokingly bullies them around.

On Tuesday, he screamed at a teammate for taking his parking spot before practice. But then he flashed a wide grin and backed off.

“If the guys are too serious, they are going to be too tight,” Carpenter said. “Jokes are good for the team. They build chemistry.”

Courtland senior quarterback Eric Washington said Carpenter also offers straightforward criticism. Washington said Carpenter was a key figure in his transition after he transferred from Orange in the winter.

Carpenter immediately pulled Washington aside and told him how his teammates respond to different types of leadership. Washington said that helped tremendously because he learned he could yell at players like fullback Joe Tyson, but not to use the same approach with his offensive linemen.

“He showed me how to lead because he’s a natural leader,” Washington said. “He told me who I can get on, who I’ve got to talk to slowly and who I can get on right away. He has a big role on this team. It would be a different story if we didn’t have him.”

Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

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