Forget the spring drills, the passing camps, and the two-a-days. Tonight, football officially returns as Bulloch Academy travels to Stillmore to take on David Emanuel Academy in the 2011 season opener.
The Gators will be looking for a repeat of last year’s opener, when they torched the Eagles for multiple big plays in a 59-22 win. The challenge for Bulloch will be to keep up the success of last season while adjusting to their new I-formation offense.
“We’re definitely still learning,” said Bulloch coach Ronnie Hodges, now serving as head coach after seven years as an assistant. “We don’t have the breakaway speed that we did last year. Those big plays from before are more likely to be 15-yard runs, but we’ll take as many as we can get.”
For all of the perils that can befall a team changing schemes during early season games, Bulloch should be more prepared than most after a busy preseason. The Gators took part in four scrimmages, allowing new quarterback Loy Waters to get more comfortable running the offense.
“We’re much better off for having played all of those scrimmages,” said Hodges. “It’s always good to get out there and hit someone else instead of your own guys, but it also gives you a better idea of what mistakes are being made and how to correct them.”
One thing that the Gators won’t be able to avoid are the injuries that have piled up over the summer.
Running back and wide receiver Jaylen Evans will not play tonight after suffering from dehydration in last week’s final scrimmage game and lineman Connor Fordham is also a scratch.
Tight end Clayton Rodgers and All-Region defensive lineman Connor Bohannon will see playing time tonight, but will be limited in the number of snaps that they participate in.
“We’re very fortunate that we have a couple of non-region games to begin the year,” said Hodges. “Not having those guys at full strength really hurts. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that we can improve our depth by having others get more experience at their positions.”
Tonight, Bulloch will face a DEA squad that is a bit different from last season.
Although the Eagles’ schemes are roughly the same, graduation and maturation will lead to a different matchup than the one that played out at Gator Alley last season.
“Last season, David Emanuel had pretty good skill spots and were big up front,” said Hodges. “This season, they lost some guys along the line, but their skill players are a fantastic group. DEA is a team that will be dangerous if we don’t play our best.”
Although the Gators were hurt by high graduation numbers from last season’s senior class, Bulloch still has its sights set on another solid season.
Returning starters like Waters and Bohannon will have to get the newer Gators going, but another playoff run is certainly the goal for Bulloch this season.
“We have some good talent and we should be fine,” said Hodges. “David Emanuel will be a very good test for us this week and a chance to see exactly where we stand.”
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.