Peach County’s defense turns its focus to Washington County’s talented back

FORT VALLEY — Washington County head coach Joel Ingram has heard a number of different guesses at the meaning of his standout running back’s nickname.

The most popular guess is that Montravious “Whistle” Gladden’s nickname comes from his considerable speed. And it would be hard to blame anyone who assumed the nickname was tied to Gladden’s athletic prowess. Gladden has rushed 1,609 yards and 19 touchdowns on 219 carries. His total yardage is third highest in Middle Georgia, but he leads the area in yards per game.

But the name comes from Gladden’s youth. As a child, the junior running back would whistle at dogs that walked by his house.

“You should see people’s faces when they find out what the nickname stands for,” Ingram said. “Who would ever guess that?”

Gladden will have the full focus of the Peach County defense tonight when WACO travels to Fort Valley for the second round of the GHSA Class AAA state playoffs. Trojans head coach Chad Campbell knows his second-ranked Trojans (11-0) will need to stymie Gladden and the rest of the Golden Hawks’ rushing attack to keep the Trojans’ season alive.

“We don’t want to slow him down; we want to kind of stop him,” Campbell said. “If we just slow him down, then they’ll grind the clock out. We can’t let them hit the big play, but we can’t him get 4 and 5 yards a carry and control the game either.”

Despite being 5-foot-6, 160-pounds, Gladden has proved he can be a workhorse back. He also gives the Golden Hawks’ a home run threat every time he touches the ball.

Gladden has rushed for more than 200 yards in four of his 10 starts this season, and he surpassed 100 yards in all but two games. Despite sharing carries with Darius Stephens, who has also rushed for close to 1,000 yards this season, Gladden has multiple 25-plus carry games. He has six touchdowns of longer than 40 yards this season, and four longer than 60 yards.

“He’s a complete runner,” Ingram said. “He’s very coachable — a lot of running backs can be divas — and never complains. He never gets to up or too down.”

Campbell compared Gladden to running backs at Cairo and Monroe-Albany and said the Trojans were fortunate to play tough running backs throughout this season.

“I think it’s definitely good when you see a lot of good backs,” Campbell said. “I don’t know if anyone else is as good as (Gladden). ...That’s a huge offensive line, and they’ll create some holes for him.”

One team, Baldwin, did find a way to stop Gladden. The Braves held Gladden to 1 yard on 12 carries in their 27-7 win over the Golden Hawks.

“I don’t know how much that tape helps us,” Campbell said. “They are an eight-man front. We play a little different defense (a 3-3). ...It doesn’t matter what we line up in. We have to be physical. If we aren’t physical, they’ll manhandle us and (Gladden) will have a big night.”