PORTAGEVILLE -- The Portageville Bulldogs tasted victory for the first time in four seasons last year. An impressive 35-0 win over the Scott City Rams not only lifted a huge weight from their shoulders and carried them to a 4-6 regular season, but it also gave them something extra to strive for in the 2010-11 season.
"We expect to be better than last year for sure," Portageville quarterback Caden Robbins said. "We expect to go to the playoffs."
With a host of seniors and starters returning, as well as a new head coach who has tasted success in the post-season, the Bulldogs will look to build off of what they started last year with a goal of reaching the playoffs steadily driving them forward.
"It's been a long time since Portageville's been in the playoffs," head coach Ronnie Jones said, who was an assistant coach last year for the Bulldogs and has coached at New Madrid County Central, Kennett and Scott City. "But, I think, we have as good of players as I ever coached here. We don't have that kid that everybody in the country knows about but there is talent here. If we can get that going in the right direction, i think we're going to be competitive.
"Our chances of getting there are pretty good if we can stay healthy."
One of the key components for Portageville to accomplish that goal will be senior quarterback Caden Robbins.
Robbins threw for 1,259 yards last season with 13 touchdown passes. He also rushed for 374 yards on 123 attempts for eight touchdowns. Not only were his offensive skills necessary for their turnaround last year, but the 6-5, 210 pound senior was also a huge lift on the defensive side as a linebacker for the Bulldogs. He helped out with 88 tackles including 26 tackles for a loss and three sacks.
"Caden is the type of kid that's competitive," said Jones. "He wants to do well. He works extremely hard and I think the kids kind of circle around him. I look to him to have a good year."
The Bulldogs' offense may have a new look to it as history has shown with Jones now at the helm. A run-oriented game plan has been Jones' style throughout his career. However, Jones knows what he has with Robbins and will utilize him to the fullest.
"We have a quarterback who threw for nearly 1,500 yards last season," said Jones. "For me not to use him would be foolish.
"But, I'm a firm believer that to win football games you have to run. If you can't do that people are going to tee off on you. A lot of it is going to be predicated on what the defense gives us."
Robbins said he's interested in how the new offense will work once the season gets underway. But, whatever the playcall, he's ready to help the team.
"We got rid of the old offense so, we're interested to see how the new one is going to work," said Robbins. "When we pass, I'll pass. I'll just do what I can."
One of Robbins' favorite targets last season was Isaac Ray. As a junior, Ray caught 21 passes for 377 yards and two touchdowns.
"Isaac has really good speed and can break a game wide open," said Jones. "He runs very good routes and him and Caden are in sync. They showed last year what their capable of."
Ray said he isn't bothered by the offensive change either. Like Robbins, he's there for the good of the team.
"It's coach's decision so, it should work out," said Ray. "If he uses me, he uses me. If not, I'll block the best I can."
If running the ball is going to be a priority, running behind senior lineman Jake Young should help the transition.
The 6-4, 220 pound offensive and defensive lineman collected 49 solo tackles on defense last year for the Bulldogs as well as 11 tackles for a loss and five sacks. On the offensive side, more often times than not Young was who the ball carrier was running behind.
"Jake is probably our best interior lineman," said Jones. "He's worked extremely hard this summer to try and get even better."
Young had recently participated in a lineman's camp in St. Louis. Out of over 100 participants, Young was ranked second among them as they tested strength, agility and 40-yard-dash times.
"It was like a combine," said Young. "I found out a lot about myself, where I stood. There were a lot of good players and good athletes there. It gives you a little bit of perspective on where you stand."
One of the important things Young found was certain aspects he needed to work on. Which will no doubt help the Bulldogs this upcoming season.
"I saw some things I needed to work on too," Young said. "I learned a lot of things."
Running behind Young and the rest of the offensive line will be a trio of running backs.
Daniel Allen, Fred Treadwell and Dominique Walker will share time as the ball carriers who all have their own style and abilities.
"Allen, Treadwell and Walker all have their strengths," Jones said. "We'll try to exploit what ever defense gives us with each of these guys."
As a freshman last season, Walker shown glimpses of a potential No. 1 running back. Jones labels him as a do-it-all guy.
"There will be times we try to get him one-on-one because of his speed," said Jones. "He compliments Fred Treadwell so well. Fred's the power runner and Dominique the finesse runner. If he gets a crease it's going to be a foot race."
With the personnel in place, Jones is excited for the season to get underway. With his time as assistant coach under former head coach Lee Wallace, who is still on the staff as an assistant coach, Jones isn't walking into a new world with his Portageville roster. He knows what type of players he was and is very pleased with them so far.
"The good thing is that I'm not totally lost here at Portageville," he said. "I know the kids and that's been a plus for me.
"I'm pretty optimistic with the talent we have."
One challenge facing the Bulldogs this year is that they no longer have that title as an up-and-coming team as they did last year. A new kind of target will be on their back as opposing teams know now who and what they bring to the table.
"The only thing I cautioned them about is that its no longer a surprise," Jones said. "Teams are going to be more apt in knowing we can beat them.
"We're not going to slip on everyone this year."
The Bulldogs, however, are hoping to slip up on something that they have set their sights on since the end of last season. They know it won't be easy, but they also know it's not too far out of reach or out of mind either.
"We just need to keep doing what we're doing," said Young. "We've been working hard out here. We've been busting our butts everyday and we're just trying to get better."
"We're going to the playoffs," said Ray. "No doubt."