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Gators look to turn summer sweat into wins
Hodges has Bulloch Academy ready to make another run
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Bulloch Academy quarterback Loy Waters dodges tackles and goes on to score on this 63-yard scamper against Pinewood Christian last season. Waters returns as a senior this season and will continue to lead the Gators' offense as well as play linebacker. - photo by BRYAN BURKE/Special


Bulloch Academy head football coach Ronnie Hodges hopes that summer successes can turn into fall victories for the 2012 edition of the Gators.

"We had a good summer in the weight room," said Hodges. "A lot of our kids got bigger, stronger and faster. The three-day camp on the Flexbone offense made a big difference in the knowledge of the offense and the confidence of our players. Our motto this season is ‘ETW’… Expect To Win. I want our guys to believe that, whoever is up next on the schedule, that we can win. The big question is if we can transfer all of this attitude, energy and excitement to the field."

Hodges will have some of his questions answered tonight when he unveils the 43-member squad at the Bob Peck Kickoff Classic in Sparta. Bulloch will face Edmund Burke Academy at 6 p.m. in a full-contact scrimmage. BA opens in regular season on August 30 in Savannah at St. Andrew’s School.

The Gators wound up the 2011 season with an 8-3 record, which included a berth into the first round of the GISA Class AAA playoffs. Bulloch finished third in the monstrous nine-team Region 1-AAA. For the 2012 season, the region has been trimmed to six teams; Deerfield-Windsor, Westfield School, Pinewood Christian, Southland Academy and Tiftarea Academy.

Graduation hit the Gators pretty hard as eight key players will no longer be wearing the Green and Gold.

"We will surely miss those players on offense, defense and special teams," said Hodges. "But we’ve had a good group of kids step up to fill those spots. We’ve still got some positions up for grabs. Right now, I think we are right where we should be. We’ve had great senior leadership during the summer and I’m ready to see how all the pieces are going to fit together."

The Gators have some big holes to fill throughout the squad but none more important that the offensive lines.

"Depth is always an issue for a small school like ours but it is critical this year in the trenches," said Hodges.

Three returning starters, senior center Asa Johnson, junior tackle Connor Fordham and sophomore guard Jake Hagan, anchor one side of Hodges’ Flexbone offense but the remainder of the spots are still up for debate.

"I feel like we have gotten bigger and faster," said Hodges. "We probably have more overall team speed this year. But if we can’t utilize it and get our ball carriers to the corners, it isn’t worth anything."

Working hard for starting spots on the line are Will Lawson, Reed Salter and Drew Salter, Joshua Bishop and Andrew Howell.

Graduating seniors Chris Young and Jaylen Evans accounted for 1,391 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns. Evans also caught three passes for scores and returned two kickoffs for TDs. While the two accounted for a big chunk of the Gator offense, Hodges feels that his stable of returning stallions will get their chance to outdo the 2011 duo.

"I feel very good about our crop of skill players," he said. "If we have any depth, it is here. Loy Waters returns at quarterback and he is backed up by Will Rushing and Lanier Olliff. We moved Matt Sheppard to fullback. We’ll be depending on Harrison Averitt as well as Bailey Smith, Daniel Hendrix and Zach Sapp."

Last season, Averitt rushed for 629 yards and crossed the goal-line nine times. He also caught at touchdown pass. Smith had four catches for 114 yards and a score.

On defense, BA top three leading tacklers, Dillan Finch, Caleb Bohannon and Codi Johnson, graduated. Hodges is moving his charges around to fill their shoes and find out who is the best fit for his 5-3 defense scheme.

"Connor and Asa return on the line, Loy at linebacker and Bailey in the secondary," he said. "We are juggling a lot of people. We are waiting for guys to step up to the challenge."

Potential starters include Jarret Humphries at defensive end, Sapp and Averitt at linebackers, Hendrix at a corner, Forrest Spence at safety. Screven County transfer Hobby Mills is battling for a linebacking spot as well as a starting role as an offensive lineman.

The Gator kicking game is solid with the emergence of junior John Paul Padilla, who was recently ranked 14th in the nation by the Ray Guy Kicking Academy. BA’s special teams will miss the electrifying returns of Evans but Hodges feels he has adequate replacements.

Because school began earlier than normal this year, Hodges tried to schedule a weekend mini-football camp for his players. But rain and lightning forced the players and coaches indoors for most of the event.

"Not having much of a football camp wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be," he said. "That was the good Lord’s design and we will take it as we get it. We will make the best of what He gives us."