Posted August 27, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

MMA lineman adept at adapting to change

Massanutten Military Academy's Cole Spillars
Massanutten Military Academy's Cole Spillars is one of just a handful of players returning from last year's Colonels squad. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Jeff Nations - jnations@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- Cole Spillars knew the challenge that awaited his second year playing football for Massanutten Military Academy.

The junior expected that many of his teammates from last year's squad wouldn't be back this time around, either due to graduation or other reasons. He realized he was likely to be one of the few returning players with any sort of experience, and as an upperclassman he would be required to become a leader for the Colonels.

Who Spillars would be leading, and who he would be leading them for -- those were questions he didn't know most of the summer.

The first answer came in early June, when Chris Gilliland was named as MMA's new coach to replace Todd Baldwin. As for the other ... well, Spillars was still trying to place names with faces the first week of practice.

"You never really know who you're going to run into again or who you'll never see again," Spillars said. "It's kind of the hard part about making friends here. But it's always nice to meet new people."

Slated to start as both an offensive and defensive lineman this season, the Columbus, Ohio, resident was one of the few sure things Gilliland could count on in taking over the MMA program. Colonels defensive coordinator Johnny Burnett, entering his second year at the school, filled in Gilliland on the 6-foot-1-inch, 185-pounder.

"He's a good kid, a good high school player for us," Burnett said. "He's a tough kid, he does well in the military here, he's an excellent student and he's good person. We have to capitalize on the number of those guys we have."

Gilliland didn't need an endorsement to see he has a player in Spillars, though. Gilliland lives in the same dormitory as his players -- supervising their activities day and night -- so the opportunity to get to know them well comes at an accelerated pace.

"To me and from what I've heard from coach Burnett, the kid had over a 4.0 [G.P.A.] last semester here at MMA, he works on the color guard, he's got some rank in the corps," Gilliland said. "He is a leader, and you can just see that by looking at him and seeing his mannerisms in practice.

"A lot of the kids sort of gravitate toward him because he's got a personality where people would want to come hang out with him."

Coming off a three-win season, the Colonels just missed a chance to play for the Cavalier Athletic Conference championship with 21-14 loss to Fredericksburg Christian after several Colonels were dismissed from the squad late in the year for infractions.

"We tried to pull our team together, but we just couldn't get a win," Spillars said.

Spillars did his part as a sophomore, seeing regular playing time as a two-way starter. His season highlight came against Model School, when he snared an errant pass for an interception and ran it back 10 yards for a touchdown.

"I made a few," Spillars said of his play-making ability last year. "I was a sophomore at the time, so it was usually our seniors who made the big plays. Hopefully this year I can make a few more."

That touchdown experience was a bit of an eye-opener for Spillars, who had been used to the relative obscurity of line play. That moment of glory felt good, and perhaps that's why he prefers playing defense -- the opportunity to gather a few of those visibly game-changing plays for himself.

"You can really unleash everything," Spillars said of playing defense. "You can go all out and really change a play, where like o-line nobody really sees if you make a good block or something. They're paying attention to the running backs or the wide receiver who just scored a touchdown.

"But on defense, you make a big play and everybody's going to be like, 'Oh, look who just sacked the quarterback.'"

The military school lifestyle has been positive for Spillars, who credits MMA's no-nonsense environment with helping him stay focused by eliminating distractions.

"It's been a pretty unique experience, having all these people come from different parts of the country and then all come together and have to learn to be teammates," Spillars said. "Some people have harder times in their life here, so it's interesting to see everyone pull together and make a team."

Spillars will have to do more than his share to make sure that teamwork develops this season.

"We're going to look for him to be one of the leaders throughout the season," Gilliland said. "Hopefully he'll be up to being one of the captains."



    Coach:Chris Gilliland (first year 0-0)
    League: VISAA Division 3 Independent
    Offense/Defense: Multiple, Odd Front
    Key returnees: OL/DL Cole Spillar, OL/LB William Bard, QB/FS Richard Lewis, NG/FB Luke Beebout
    Key losses: Carl St. Amand, Josh Barquero, Kyle Green, Byars Holland, Richard Magnotti, Stele Pompilio, Chris Riker

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