By CHARLIE CHITWOOD
There are no more “friendlies” for the Bulldogs now. Nothing half-speed or even three-quarter speed will do. Geared up and cinched up, your 2018 edition of the Jefferson Bulldogs are ready for the start of the season against on old rival from Camp County, the Pittsburg Pirates.
►Watch Charlie interview Kylan Thomas, Trace Smith, and T.Q. Jackson about the upcoming season:
These Bulldogs won’t have the same stroll through the park that they’ve enjoyed the past two seasons. Instead of going up against smaller 3A’s and almost-3A’s, Jefferson is going to have get ready for a rugged district schedule by playing three 4A squads – the above-mentioned Bucco’s from Pittsburg plus Center’s Roughriders (a throwback to the 1990’s when last they played one another) and the Panthers of North Lamar High up in Paris. Only Arp comes in with a smaller student body to pull from, but the Tigers are rarely anyone’s punching bag.
In short, don’t look for this Jefferson football team to make the their half of the scoreboard look like it came from Bulldog Gym – they just won’t score with quite the same ease as they did against the Frankston’s and Clarksville’s of the world.
Pittsburg and Center are both projected to play more than just a single Class 4A-Division II post-season date. Even Arp is expected to go two or three rounds deep, and while North Lamar (unsurprisingly) is nobody’s pick for the playoffs, really funny things have been known to happen to visitors in Lamar County. Call that one a trap game – it’s a big ol’ trap and the Dawgs have the ability to beat it, but it STILL could snap shut at the wrong moment.
After seeing the Dawgs handle their own against Waskom, Elysian Fields and West Rusk in the two scrimmages, it’s sure-enough possible they can get to district play in late September with a spotless 4-0 mark. If Jefferson gets skinned once or even twice, I’d still not worry too much as the team comes together, particularly in the trenches.
I haven’t seen the Bulldogs picked anywhere lower than third in 7-3A by any of the prognosticators, but only a few of them from the “Longview News-Journal” ventured forth to predict Jefferson will take the district crown. Atlanta – a one-‘n-done in the Class 4A-Division II playoffs last year – gets the betting odds owing to their larger student population and a reputation for having the fastest Rabbits around.
Mt. Vernon was a loaded football team a year ago but lost loads of talent on graduation day. Still, a deep playoff run means more practice and playing time for everyone else on the squad but I don’t think the Tigers are going to be able to muster enough defensively to slow down a Bulldog team that has too many guys that can’t be caught from behind.
Jefferson’s secret to victory each week will come right out of ol’ Doc Brown’s playbook, where space and time can be mashed together. If the Dawgs can get the ball into space in time, then place kicker Landon Fuquay will have another busy, busy year.
Offensive coordinator Josh Keith has the luxury of sending in plays to a solid, well-versed quarterback in Trey Hodge. With Kylan Thomas – and even Lyrik Rawls – Hodge can get a breather while opposing defenses try and figure out the difference.
Jefferson won’t just have speed in the backfield with the likes of a recovering Tyron Williams, Dee Black and even Malik Cannon. And the Dawgs have a number of receivers to opt for in case somebody throws a blanket over the uber-gifted T.Q. Jackson. Defense wins champiosnhips, and the Bulldog linebacking corps and secondary might be the “Best in Class.”
Brennan Varnell, Kannon Glover, Henry Hill Jr. and the afore-mentioned Cannon form an iron-ore rock wall in the middle of the defense while the likes of Trace Smith, Jackson and Rawls are going to make the Jefferson secondary a tall order. The corners can hit you – and quickly – with guys like Thomas and Black – if anyone can get past a defensive line anchored by Texas State commit Eric Gipson.
Somebody coined the term “Second Round Curse” and put it on the Bulldogs after their high-wire act was thwarted by big, stronger clubs in the Area playoffs these past two years. Realignment could easily have arranged for all four 7-3A playoff qualifiers to advance to the second round again. I expect in a more level bracket, the “cursing” will be done by opposing squads and not Jefferson.
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