Bulldogs kick off fall practice
Looking to improve on last year's 5-6 campaign, the Marlboro County Bulldogs hit the field Friday afternoon for the start of fall practice.
"It is always an exciting time of year. Everyone is undefeated and full of optimism and we are no different," said head coach Dean Boyd, who will be entering his 21st season as the head Bulldog.
"We were a little disappointed in our numbers. We had around 90 kids in our summer workout program but less than 60 showed up the first couple of days," said Boyd.
That picked up on Monday when numerous players who were enjoying a final week of freedom showed up.
Boyd is pleased with the effort and attitude of those who have been at practice.
"They are working really hard and have had a lot of energy. We have gotten a lot accomplished but there is a lot of work to do," he said.
The primary focus will be the overall improvement of the defense.
In 11 games last year, the Bulldogs gave up 316 points (28.7 points per contest.) In comparison, the 1998 and 2001 state title teams gave up a combined 283 points in 30 games or 9.4 points a game.
"We have changed some things, scheme wise, but the biggest factor will be the players themselves. We were gashed at the line of scrimmage by most of our opponents," said Boyd.
"We had deficiencies on the line and at linebacker. The returning players have worked hard in the off season and are practicing hard. We'll just see if that can translate into a better performance," he said.
Boyd singled out linebacker Jaquez McCray and end Demareon "Pudge" Bingham for praise.
On offense, the coaches are also watching the line closely. After three starters graduated, retooling the line will be key to the Bulldogs' success.
Boyd has confidence in the two returning starters, center Fred McCray and tackle Noah Henderson.
"Fred is one of the strongest guys on the team and has a lot of experience. Noah finished last season strong but had not played before, so he is still learning. He has all the tools to have a great senior season," said Boyd.
Now finding the right guys to man the other positions is a priority.
Despite losing the primary weapon from last year's offense with the graduation of Dylven Covington, Boyd is confident that the running back position is in good hands.
"We have five guys who all have different strengths who will all get to carry the ball. There may not be a D.C. among them but with all of them battling for playing time, they are showing a lot of promise," said Boyd.
The five are Josh Brown, Tyqueashis Bridges, L.J. Simpkins, Tyrone Alford and Tavorris "Troll" Ingram. Ingram is working his way back into shape after suffering a terrible leg injury against Dillon last season.
Boyd praised the leadership and development of junior quarterback Elijah Blair.
"Little E is playing with more and more confidence. He is still working on making the right reads but that is just something that takes time," said Boyd.
Boyd is concerned about the lack of depth at quarterback. Right now, there is no other varsity option other than moving wide receiver Iyon Williams to quarterback if Blair wasn't available.
Freshman Darius Grant has impressed the coaches but they don't want to put the pressure of running the varsity on the young man.
The Bulldogs will host West Florence in the year's first scrimmage Saturday morning. Typically, a first scrimmage doesn't get coaches too excited but Boyd is anxious to see how his team will perform.
"We know there will be mistakes but how our defensive and offensive fronts hold up against a Class 5A team will tell a lot about our squad and our potential," said Boyd.
The Bulldogs and Knights will begin action at 10 a.m.
Next week the team will play in three jamborees. Thursday night they travel to Lumberton to play the host team in the nightcap of that jamboree.
They host the Dennis Miller Jamboree of Champions on Friday and will travel to McBee on Saturday.