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BA testing the Waters
Bulloch Academy's Loy Waters, then a defensive back, hones in on a Bethesda ballcarrier in this Friday, October 15, 2010 file photo. Waters will replace three-year starting quarterback Brandon Walker at the position and will also play linebacker for the Gators and first-year coach Ronnie Hodges in 2011. - photo by Associated Press

    The hot, humid summer may be dragging on for most, but at Bulloch Academy, the countdown to a new football season is flying by and there is no time to lose.
    With the Gators’ offseason came a huge to-do list as nearly half of the 2010 starting roster was lost to graduation. Add to that the departure of former head coach Clint Morgan just before spring practice and Bulloch was staring at an uphill battle long before the 2011 regular season was even in sight.
    Morgan was replaced by Ronnie Hodges and three-year starting quarterback Brandon Walker has been replaced by Loy Waters, last season's backup.
    But this is the kind of adversity that seems to give the Gators an extra spark. It was against all odds that Bulloch battled to a region title in 2009 despite much of the team missing time with a flu outbreak, and it was that same sort of determination in the face of adversity that pushed it into the state playoffs last season in the school’s first year competing in the Georgia Independent School Association’s highest classification.
    “We know that we’ve got a whole lot of work cut out for us,” said Hodges. “But we’re up to the challenge. It’s been a hot summer full of hard work, and we’re thrilled with the numbers that we’ve seen turn out for all of these workouts.”
    Tuesday was just another step in the process as a couple dozen Gators were on the field for 7-on-7 passing drills.
    Seeing ball after ball flung into the air was likely a new experience for the Gators — who have built up a reputation for having one of the state’s best rushing attacks each year — but even though the running game will still be a mainstay under Hodges, all of the passing has its benefits.
    Both the offensive and defensive lines return their starters from last season, but the entire offensive backfield is gone along with most of the back seven on the defensive side of the ball.
    By running wide open passing drills, Hodges and his staff are getting a good look at many players in various positions before having to get more focused once fall camp starts up.
    “We have good talent, but the key is building depth,” said Hodges. “We’ve got around 48 kids on the roster right now, which is good, but we need to see who can play where. This is a good opportunity to see what kids can perform in various positions on the field.”
    One spot that has seemingly already been filled is one of the most important on the field.
    Brandon Walker vacated the quarterback position after three years as the Gators’ head signal caller, but junior Loy Waters has impressed coaches as the heir to the reigns of the offense.
    The early decision on Waters at quarterback was vital as Bulloch — while moving away from Morgan’s flexbone look — will still rely heavily on the option out of the I and wishbone formations, making the quarterback the continued focal point in the offense.
    But as crucial to the offense as he will be, Waters’ experience as a returner is so valued to the 2011 Gators that he will have responsibilities on defense as well.
    “We’ll have Loy starting off at quarterback and at linebacker,” said Hodges. “We really value Loy’s experience and ability to lead on and off the field. That will be the case of all of our juniors and seniors returning this season. There are holes to fill, but I think we have the kind of kids that can step up and get the job done.”

    Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.