Cobras tried harder

From winless ‘76 debut, Fountain Lake embraces football success

FOUNTAIN LAKE-- An 0-10 record in 1976 by the school's first football team is a footnote to the success enjoyed by the Cobra Program.

Honoring teams over the last 40-plus years that have played for two state titles, winning one, and several conference championships, the Fountain Lake Alumni Association conducted a scholarship dinner Friday night.

New Cobra head coach J.D. Plumlee joined a group including former Fountain Lake coaches and a member of the school's 2009 Class 3A championship team.

"We hope this is the first event of its kind," said FLAA president Mary Sargo-Schapiro. "Next year, we will be doing the same wonderful thing for our basketball legacy, which is about twice as old as football. We are proud to honor football this year and to pay tribute to the great coaches and players who have made the program what it is."

Todd Cragg, FLAA secretary, served as the emcee, sharing stories about the 1976 Cobras (he was a senior) and presenting his letterman jacket to the school district.

After a dinner provided by Riverside Grocery and Catering, attendees were treated to a video retrospective.

Fountain Lake football took off after Jerry Clay became head coach in 1981, assistant coach John Utley joining his staff.

From his first day with the players, Clay "walked into a gold mine."

"I got here at just the right time," he said. "I was very lucky to come when I did. Things were in place when I got here. They were fundamentally sound. After the first day in pads, I remember, I told coach Utley, 'We're going to be good.' I knew the first day."

The definitive game for Clay's first team came against preseason conference favorite Bismarck with both squads undefeated.

"We had won some close games, but Bismarck had been beating everybody," Clay said. "There were so many people at that game. Both teams were undefeated. If you watch that film, you can't see some of the plays because there were so many people on the sideline. I remember we scored a touchdown in the north end zone, and you couldn't even see the end of it because the people were all stacked up."

The Cobras finished the regular season undefeated, losing in the first round of the playoffs.

Utley stayed behind as head coach when Clay went to Lake Hamilton in 1987, state championships following in 1992 and 2008.

"June 16 is a pretty special day for me, for two reasons," he began. "It's my birthday. The other reason (is) because 36 years ago, I received a phone call."

Learning that Utley needed a job, Clay said, "We'll send you a contract."

Also coaching the junior high, Utley was asked one week about the mascot for upcoming opponent Mansfield.

"I said, 'They're the ...', and I stopped," he said. "I had a flashback to 1978. When I was playing at (Arkansas) Tech, we had a kid from Mansfield. He did something wrong in practice; head coach hollered at him, 'Boy, where are you from?' 'Mansfield, coach.' 'What's their mascot? The Swamp Eagles?' Fast-forward to 1986: 'They're the Swamp Eagles.'"

When the cheerleaders unfurled the run-through, it featured an eagle with a cobra wrapped around it that said, "Strangle the Swamp Eagles."

"I couldn't believe they did that," he said. "Every day was like that. We had fun. That's what it's about. Wins and losses are great, but if you don't have fun doing it, then there's no sense in doing it."

Marc Davis, presently Fountain Lake's athletic director, recalled one trip while he was on the coaching staff.

"We went down to Foreman," he said. "We didn't have a roster. We found a legal pad, and coach Clay wrote down there 'Fountain Lake Roster.' We started taking kids' names and numbers. We come running out on the field, and the announcer said, 'Ladies and gentlemen, let's welcome to Foreman the Fountain Lake Roosters.' I'll never forget that."

Davis praised former coach Tommy Gilleran for his contributions to Fountain Lake football. A Lake Hamilton alum, Gilleran coached at Dover before joining the Fountain Lake staff as an assistant to Davis. The two later made a seamless transition with Gilleran directing the Cobras to back-to-back Class 3A title appearances in 2008 and 2009 while Davis later went into administration.

Gilleran is preparing for his first season as Lake Hamilton's head coach.

"I can't say enough about him and what he's meant to this school and what he's meant to me," Davis said. "I'm so happy he gets to go home. He gets to go home and create a dynasty like he did here, and he gets to do that on his own terms. I'm so happy he got the honor to go home and coach."

Troy Overton recalled what stuck out to him about the 2009 championship team.

"If anybody was slacking or being lazy, we always had somebody back behind them to pull their head back into it," he said. "We worked as a unit. Whether it was in practice or in the weight room or at a game. That's what made us greater than everybody else. It wasn't just a couple seniors working hard. This program meant a lot to me."

Gilleran remembers the 2009 championship game and the "circus" that surrounded it, especially someone backing into assistant coach David DeArmon's truck. "Coach DeArmon," he said, "gets mad.

"We load the busses up and get down the hill, and I think, 'Is coach DeArmon on the other bus?' Next thing I know, I get a phone call, and David goes, 'I'm up here at the fieldhouse.' I said, 'Well, we're down here at the bottom of the hill.' Then we're driving there, and coach (Mike) Hernandez is driving the bus. I didn't know he was going fast; I usually sleep on the way to games. Next thing you know, we get pulled over."

Fountain Lake eked out a 22-21 win over Prescott in the 2008 quarterfinals before routing Lavaca 70-0.

"We were excited and really working hard, and it was 50-0 at the half," Gilleran said. "We scored every possession. I looked at coach Davis, and I said, 'We're going to the finals, unless they score 51 in the next running-clock moments.'

"There were a lot of firsts that year. We beat Lakeside 88-66 that year. We just made less mistakes than they did."

A Lakeside alum and former offensive coordinator at Russellville, Plumlee said he was excited to be at Fountain Lake, his first game with the Cobras set Sept. 1 against Pottsville.

"I want to say thank you ... for allowing me to have this opportunity to have my first head-coaching job," he said. "I got a lot of questions about why we won (the Class 6A title) in Russellville last year. We took a team that went 1-17 in junior high, and they had never won a game in high school and turned it around and beat Greenwood in the state championship. As a young coach ... you make a short list of schools and communities you want to be in and that you can see yourself being a coach at, and Fountain Lake was on that list."

Plumlee said he is inspired by his predecessors at Fountain Lake.

"The tradition and the foundation that these men up here have laid for this community is one of the best. I'm so excited to get to Friday nights in the fall to see the hill and be a part of it. I want this community to understand ... the foundation is so strong here ... who wouldn't want to come take this job with the foundation that was here."

Sports on 06/18/2017

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