A few years ago, the Bulldogs had Ramir Henry, who was an emotional sparkplug for the team, because he stood only 5-foot-5 and weighed 160 pounds, but Henry was not afraid to hurl his diminutive body into a scrap if it meant getting a few more yards for his team.
Over the last two years, that role was handed down to Davon Shaw, another fiery performer who played much bigger than his 5-foot-8 and 170-pound frame.
Both Henry and Shaw went on to become Hudson Reporter All-Area performers, with Shaw earning the distinction the last two years.
Valdez knew that if the Bulldogs were going to be successful in 2007, he needed someone to step up and be the main guy to replace Shaw, who in turn, replaced Henry. There had to be one certain back among the returning Ferris players who had to distinguish himself above the others. Before the season, Valdez was pleased that he had a host of talent in his backfield, with as many as seven different running backs poised to carry the ball for the Bulldogs.
But there wasn't one who stood out above the rest.
In his heart, Valdez was hoping that junior Corey Cottle could be the one. After all, Valdez knew Cottle since he was in Valdez' sixth grade class. It would be too easy to say that Valdez coddled the youngster through his elementary school days, but Valdez knew that Cottle had the potential to be a good one.
"I don't settle for mediocrity," Valdez said. "So I've always been harder on Corey, always giving him criticism, because I knew it would make him better. I knew he could do it. He's a great athlete with great speed. We just needed to work on him a little."
The first obstacle was with Cottle himself, because he never really thought of himself as a running back.
"I'm definitely more of a defensive player and I always wanted to be a defensive player," said Cottle, who started last year in the Bulldogs' secondary as a sophomore. "I didn't think I could get to the level of the other guys [Henry and Shaw]. I wasn't as good as they were. I just thought I would play in the secondary and that would be it."
All along, Valdez wanted Cottle to think like a running back.
"Our offensive line has been doing the job, creating holes, but our backs have been settling for getting the five yards created by the hole," Valdez said. "That's not good enough. We needed our backs to get the extra yards, using the stiff arm, spinning away from tacklers, getting the most out of every carry. Sooner or later, I knew one of them was going to break away."
Added Valdez, "I took it to Corey and told him to make a conscious effort of trying to break away. I challenged him a little. I get on him so much because I expect more out of him. It was just a matter of training him to do the right thing. He was doing a decent job before. But last week, he was on a mission."
Last Saturday, the Bulldogs took on Marist, which has a standout back of its own in Juwan Carson. Cottle knew that this could be the game that could gain him some attention of his own.
"I thought I could show everyone what I was made of," Cottle said. "I figured that if I was getting the opportunity, I was going to make the most of it. There were no second chances for me. I was getting the chance to be in the spotlight. I just played a little harder and I didn't hesitate at all when I saw the holes. In order to make good plays, I knew I had to become a playmaker. The whole week prior was about me becoming a playmaker."
Cottle certainly took advantage of his opportunity to run against Marist. He carried the ball 17 times for 223 yards and two touchdowns, leading a trio of Bulldog running backs who went over the century mark in yardage, joining teammates Chris Torres (158 yards) and Bryan Worts (113) in Ferris' big 53-13 victory.
For his efforts, Cottle has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Cottle now knows what he's capable of doing as a running back.
"It's definitely made me more confident," Cottle said. "But this is just the beginning. I can see what I can do a whole lot more now. I feel like I can be that type of player. I just hope to get better every week. It was a good feeling to help my team get a win. I definitely feel like I can develop now as a running back and make me a different player."
Valdez said that Cottle has the makings of being a special player. He should know. He's played with and against some good ones in his days, first at Hoboken High School, then the University of Miami. Some of Valdez' former teammates are now standouts in the NFL.
"I told Corey that we were passing the torch, from Henry to Shaw and that it could be passed to him," Valdez said. "Someone had to be the one to take the torch and run with it. I think now it can be him. Hopefully, we're looking at the start of some big things. He definitely has a good future and I know what it takes to be a Division I back. He has a lot of work ahead of him, working on his speed, his breakaway speed and he has to get a little bigger and stronger. But he should be a back on the next level. I'm pleased with his athletic progress.
Added Valdez, "Of his 17 carries in the game, he gained extra yardage on 10 of them. He made extra things happen by breaking away, running out of bounds, using his speed more. He had one carry for 25 yards and another for 45. That's what we need. Because of it, I'm flirting with the idea of using him more at fullback [the premier position in a Delaware Wing-T offense]. We need someone more explosive back there and he could be it."
Cottle likes hearing that he has potential to play in college.
"That's why I want to keep getting better, because it's my dream to play football in college," Cottle said. "It's the only sport I play. I want to take everything to the next level. I still have time to get better."
If getting better is part of the package, then there's no doubt that Corey Cottle can play college football. It's all part of the plan now that he realizes he is a standout running back, just like the ones he followed at Ferris. - Jim Hague