In his first year as head coach Steve Pennington helped lead the Bulloch Academy Gators to a 7-3 record in 2020 and into the GISA state playoffs where they lost a heartbreaker in the first round with a 34-27 loss to Frederica.
The Gators lose a few important pieces from the 2020 team including their entire offensive line but do return plenty of skill including the most talented player in school history in RB/WR Rodney Hill who has committed to Florida State.
“I am really excited about this team, and they have put in a tremendous amount of work during the off-season,” said Pennington. “Our work ethic was off the charts this summer and that has continued into our preseason practice. We wonder where the time has gone, but the time is here, and we are ready to get the season underway.”
“What has me the most optimistic is how well our team has gelled together,” said Penington. “I feel like there is great chemistry and I credit a lot of that to our senior class. They have performed above our expectations from the standpoint of leading by example. They did it over the summer with their workouts, they do it in the locker room and they do it on the field.”
The Gators had a couple of practice games scheduled and were able to get in some work against Augusta Prep and St. Andrews giving Pennington an idea of what to expect.
“There were a lot of positives that came out of that action including seeing how our team looked in a game type situation,” said Pennington. “It also gave us an idea of who may be ready to play a backup role in order for us to grow some depth. It was a fruitful opportunity, and we learned a lot about our team as we prepare for Savannah Country Day this Friday.”
The Gators will be counting on Hill as a running back and receiver on offense as he will presumably get as many touches as possible. The Gators will also be working Case Murphy and Bryson Scott in the backfield as well. The skill position players will be counting on a talented yet inexperience offensive line to help break them free.
“We want to keep things very simple on offense, but we want to execute at a high level,” said Pennington. “We have plenty of speed in our backfield and will be using Rodney at both running back and slot receiver, but I also think having Bryson Scott at 6-1 225 pounds back there gives us a little something different as he is such a big guy but still has speed as well. Rodney is a threat to go the distance any time he touches the ball and teams have to account for him allowing opportunities for others as well.”
“We lost our entire offensive line which is a concern,” said Pennington. “This is a brand-new line blocking for a pair of sophomore quarterbacks. The good thing is we have a couple guys like Malone Cason and Jackson Perry who have moved over to the offensive line and have really helped us. There are also a few younger guys who have really improved, and they have a lot of energy.”
One of the keys to success will also be at quarterback where a pair of sophomores will be battling it out for playing time. Ben Aaron may have the edge as he got plenty of snaps last year in practice and JV games, while Statesboro High transfer Brennan Perosa has shown the talent to give Aaron a run for his money.
“Both of our sophomore quarterbacks are more than capable of leading this team,” said Pennington. “We will probably be using them both throughout the season because each one has their own strengths which balance things out. We want to use those strengths during the game to keep defensives guessing and help us move the football.”
The Gators may have to count on their defense to help get them by until the offense gets some game reps. The good thing is the Gators have plenty of experience on the defensive side of the ball even though many may also be helping out on offense.
“We are feeling really good about our defense especially our defensive front which should be pretty dog gone solid,” said Pennington. “Tyler Padgett and Bryson Scott are or anchors on the line and have done a great job. Our linebackers are solid, but we don’t have the same depth as we do up front. We also have a lot of experience in the secondary.”
Special teams is also an area the Gator will be breaking in a new player as strong legged kicker Olen Anderson has graduated and newcomer Johnnie Hood will be looking to fill the big shoes left by Anderson.
The Gators open the season Friday in Savannah as they take on Savannah Country Day at 7:30.