St. Andrews (0-0) at Bulloch Academy (0-0)
7:30 p.m., 850 AM
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A lack of pre-season playing time has hampered Bulloch Academy’s preparation for tonight’s season-opener against the St. Andrew’s Fighting Lions from Wilmington Island.
“We have usually had about five scrimmages by this time,” said BA head coach Ronnie Hodges. “This year, we’ve had one. I just hope we’ve got 11 people on the field and that they know where to line up.”
Time and time again, practices and scrimmages were cancelled due to torrential rain and lightning. At times, BA’s ‘Gator Alley’ was reduced to a mud pit. The Gators were forced to hold many offensive and defensive drills in the school’s gymnasium. Outdoor conditioning sessions and full-pad practices were few and far between until recently.
There are two other factors facing the 31-player squad.
“Depth is a major problem,” said Hodges. “Sickness and injuries have been and are depleting us. In order to get depth, we have to move people around from position to position. They have got to be interchangeable.”
Inexperience at the team’s key leadership position is a big question mark.
“It all starts with the quarterback,” said the big Gator.
Junior Will Rushing, an understudy for the past two seasons to former All Region and All-State signal caller Loy Waters, takes the reins of the 2013 team.
“We have been very confident with Will at quarterback,” said Hodges. “He’s done great in practices and scrimmages. But it’s all different when you strap it on for real. We’ll find out tonight.”
To help Rushing, Hodges and offensive coordinator Matt Meeks have implemented a modified shotgun offense.
“We will be running the same plays but in a different look,” said Hodges. “It’s called the Pistol. We will not be taking the snap under center. We will be two yards back. The biggest thing now is getting the snap.”
Enter senior Connor Fordham, who moves from tackle to center.
“In the Spring, we didn’t take a snap under center nor did we throughout the pre-season,” said Hodges. This will help Will and the backs get a better view of the field.”
Bulloch’s offense will consist of a little more misdirection and more passing.
“Our game plan is to pass more than we have been doing,” said Hodges. “Our alignment favors the pass. It also will be good for misdirection in the backfield.”
Senior Matt Sheppard, who rushed for 536 yards last season and scored 11 touchdowns, moves from fullback to wingback. Classmate Zach Sapp gets the call at fullback. Others who will see action at the skill positions are juniors Andrew Howell and Lee Waters and senior Daniel Hendrix. Wide blockers, as Hodges calls them, are seniors Davis Duggan, Will Bohlke and J.P. Padilla.
“We want to be able to get outside,” he said. “The key to a good passing offense is not the pass itself, it’s the protection. In our jamboree, we had great protection and I hope that will continue.”
According to the BA head man, the offensive line is quicker than in years past. Senior Hobby Mills and freshman G.C. Kimbrell get the nod at guards. Juniors Jake Hagan and Davis Beecher, along with sophomore Braxton Brinson, will hold down the tackle spots. Bohlke and sophomore Hunter Perry are tabbed at tight ends.
The 50 series defense will be led by returning starters Sapp (linebacker), junior Dylan Stuckey (tackle), Mills (nose), Howell (linebacker) and Hendrix (defensive back). Others starters will be Perry (defensive end), Bohlke (defensive end), Sheppard (cornerback) and Lee Waters (safety).
Hodges scouted St. Andrews last Friday night as the Fighting Lions lost 60-6 to Bible Baptist in their season opener.
“They run a base offense similar to ours,” he said. “They’ve got skill. Nate Mayo (junior quarterback) is good at both running and throwing. Wallace Wright (junior running back) is good in short yardage situations. Malcolm Williams-Green is a speedy back. Both Dylan Hix and Caleb Tymchyshyn can catch the ball.”
In last year’s contest on Wilmington Island, Mayo passed for 274 yards and four touchdowns in Bulloch’s 52-35 victory.
Statesboro native Doug Dixon, who headed the football program at Riverside Military Academy for years, takes over the reins of the Fighting Lions.
“Coach Dixon is going to build a good team,” said Hodges. “The most improvement a team makes is from the first game to the second. They are playing their second and we haven’t played one yet. We’ll see what happens.”