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Underclassmen bracing Effingham County defense
Cooper Nease
Effingham County defensive end Cooper Nease (23) pressures Howard quarterback Dawson Skinner during an Oct. 2 game at Rebel Field. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

SPRINGFIELD — Cooper Nease’s football motor has no kill switch. He runs wide open all the time regardless of the situation.

“The only thing that slows him down is if he gets a cramp or two,” Effingham County head coach Buddy Holder said. 

Nease, a sophomore end, has developed into one of the Rebels’ best defenders. He helped them post a 10-0 shutout of rival South Effingham in their last outing Oct. 9.

“He got a lot stronger since the last football season,” Holder said. “He got a lot stronger during the COVID-19 time off that we had. He continued to work and got stronger.

“He has a different body and is a different person since this time last year.”

Nease, who weighs just 200 pounds, consistently disrupts quarterbacks by speeding under and around larger blockers on the edge. 

“He has tenacity and competitiveness,” Holder said. “His brother Mason played for us on the offensive line and he was the same way so they, I guess, get taught that aggressiveness and competitiveness at home. It’s been a good thing.”

Mason Nease earned a spot on the All-Region 2-AAAAAA team last year and Cooper might be headed in that direction.

“He’s great. He’s great in the weight room, he’s great out here (on the practice field),” Holder said.

Cooper Nease isn’t the only underclassmen giving the Rebels (2-3, 1-0) a defensive boost.

“We’ve got sophomores Keysean McCarr (at linebacker) and Ashley Thompson (at free safety),” Holder said. “We’ve got juniors in there at linebacker in Tucker Wilson and Trevor Shanning. We’ve got another one in Trent Robinson who is a first-year player for us who has really come along.

“We’ve got a good little mix of guys who are young and playing a lot. At times, we’ve got Keion (Wallace) over there at defensive end and that’s another tenth grader. That’s a lot of JV-aged players on the varsity.”

Effingham County’s young defense will face a stern test Friday when Richmond Hill visits Rebel Field. The Wildcats (5-1. 2-0) won their first two region games against Bradwell Institute and Statesboro by a combined 76-7.

“You want to really be able to show what you can do on the stage that you play on,” Holder said. “It was a big stage against South and it will be a big stage against Richmond Hill. It’s game we can control and it’s a big region game against a rival that is almost crosstown.

“We’ve got a lot of preparation and work to do to get ready but these kids are focused.”

Holder and his staff have found their current crop of players to be receptive to instruction.

“They are fun to coach. I’ve said that a million times,” Holder said.