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Gators need answers in the backfield
Bulloch Academy looking to replace Waters, Averitt
Harrison Averitt of Bulloch Academy gains some tough yards against the stingy defense of then-No. 1-ranked Deerfield-Windsor in this Friday, Oct. 24, 2012 file photo at Gator Alley. Averitt is one piece of the backfield the Gators will look to replace in 2013. - photo by BRYAN BURKE/Special to the Herald

Region: 1-IAAA
Head Coach: Ronnie Hodges (3rd season, 16-6)
Last Season: 8-3, 3-2 (3rd, Region 1-IAAA)
2012 Postseason: Lost to Stratford Academy in 1st round
Key Losses: Loy Waters, QB; Harrison Averitt, RB; Bailey Smith, WR
Key Returners: Connor Fordham, OL/DL; Matt Sheppard, RB/LB

2013 Schedule
Aug. 29    St. Andrew's
Sept. 6    Bethesda Day
Sept. 13    @ Robert Toombs
Sept. 20    Trinity Christian
Sept. 27    @ Brentwood
Oct. 4    BYE
Oct. 11    @ Deerfield-Windsor*
Oct. 18    Tiftarea*
Oct. 25    Westfield*
Nov. 1    @ Southland*
Nov. 8    @ Pinewood Christian

    In a preseason full of excessive heat and rain that has plagued teams throughout the state, the Bulloch Academy Gators are no exception.
    Since a three-team jamboree scrimmage held last Friday, Bulloch has only been able to get into full pads once. With opening night just 12 days away, every minute is becoming vital as the Gators prepare to contend in a talented Class AAA.
    “With all of the weather issues, we’re a good week behind where we had planned,” BA coach Ronnie Hodges said. “I imagine that most other schools around here are facing the same situation, but it’s still a big concern. We have a lot of things that need to be addressed before that first game.”
    Chief among the Gators’ concerns is replacing two-year starting quarterback Loy Waters. Waters led the team to a 16-6 record as a starter and was also a large part of the defense.
    Sophomore Lanier Oliff looked to be a solid pick under center this season, but he broke his ankle during baseball season and won’t be ready to get back into the mix for at least a few more weeks. Instead, junior Will Rushing has been taking the snaps and going through the reads of the Gators’ option attack.
    “Will has been doing a very good job,” Hodges said.
    Of course, a rained out scrimmage against Mount de Sales scheduled for Thursday was a sizable bump in the road.
   “Missing out on that hurt,” Hodges said. “We need our quarterbacks to see as much as possible to get used to running the offense. Hopefully our next scrimmage against Frederica will go well and we can have some better days to practice.”
     Running backs Matt Sheppard and Lee Waters are ready to step up into bigger roles this season and be the beneficiaries of a Gator attack that routinely lights up the scoreboard.
    Now healthy after knee issues last season, senior Connor Fordham makes the move to center to anchor the Bulloch offensive line.
    On the other side of the ball, some of the same names will be key pieces.
    Hodges is looking to limit the amount of two-way play, but a 30-man roster — and four contributors already out with injuries — will require that at least some players pull double duty.
    “Connor is a guy who will probably see time on defense,” Hodges said. “I’d like to protect his legs and have him play more on offense, but we’ll see how that goes. The defensive backfield is where things are a little worrisome. Atys Cope is out right now. Waters and Sheppard can play back there, but you don’t want your running backs getting worn out.”
    The Gators should at least have a strong middle of the defense leading the way. Loy Waters’ graduation was a hit to the linebacking unit, but Andrew Howell and Zach Sapp are both returning starters with plenty of talent.
    Plenty of wrinkles still remain to be ironed out before opening night, but the Gators still figure to be a factor in the Region 1-IAAA race.
    Deerfield-Windsor and Westfield remain the division’s heavyweights – Bulloch has suffered all four of its regular season losses over the last two seasons against the pair – but the Gators have been a solid third and are looking to take a step forward.
    Bulloch gets things started with five consecutive non-region games before a bye week leads into a frantic five-week race for the region crown. All of the non-region games come against schools from lower classifications, hopefully giving new Gator starters some time to settle in while giving some of Bulloch’s currently injured starters time to get to full strength before the season’s most important contests.

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