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Preview: Expectations high for Sikeston football team

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

(Photo)
2010 Sikeston Bulldogs
SIKESTON -- Living up to the 2009-10 Sikeston football season will be next to impossible.

The atmosphere, the moments, the energy and the all-around excitement around the city of Sikeston will be nearly unparalleled as the Bulldogs' storybook season went down in history as the most successful in the school's history.

Those seniors that took them there; Juqualin Wiggins, Eli Jackson, Chris Jones, Gratten Allen, Jarian Wims, Niquavious Dixon, Josh Carlyle, along with more, will not be around this year. And some may say they took any chance of the Bulldogs repeating what they accomplished a season ago with them.

The 2010-11 senior class may have something to say about that.

"Right now, our expectations are to get back to where we were last year and then further," senior lineman Corey Porter said. "People talk about how we're not going to be as good as last year and I think all of us seniors have something to prove this year."

As the Sikeston Bulldogs head into the upcoming football season, filling the voids left by the seniors before them and figuring out a way to surpass their ending a year ago will be the biggest question marks.

"Us seniors want to prove that we can do the same thing," senior linebacker Ray Clark said. "We have a lot of talent on this team. But, we still have to work at it. We're not as good as we were last year, but I think we will get the job done."

It will be tough replacing a record-breaking roster that was laden with senior leadership and experience. Porter, and the rest of the Bulldogs, know that. But they feel they have the personnel and the motivation to eclipse last year's success.

"It's going to take some time to rebuild to what we had but, that's the whole part of the season," Porter said. "We bring back, not as much experience but we have plenty of returning seniors that will be leading the way."

Senior quarterback Trey Lewis will take over as the new Bulldog quarterback. A role Wiggins flourished in a season ago.

Along with others, Wiggins set new season records in passing yards (1,509), completion percentage (68%) and tied the touchdown passes record at 16. He was the first Sikeston quarterback to ever rush for 1,000 yards and was also the first quarterback to rush and throw for 1,000 yards.

"Juqualin left some big shoes to follow in and everyday it's just about coming out here and working hard and trying to make this team better," said Lewis. "We might not have that much experience, but, I see the fight in these young players that want to get better. I know that us seniors want to step up and be those leaders.

"We can lead this team to, hopefully, a 15 game season."

Lewis certainly has the athletic ability to take over the role. As a state champion long jumper and a second place finisher in the triple jump for the Sikeston track and field team last season, Lewis is used to using his agility and athleticism which could translate into a prolific role as Sikeston's quarterback.

Sikeston head coach Kent Gibbs is confident in his abilities athletically. It's the other side of playing quarterback that may take time.

"It's going to be a big challenge for Trey," said Gibbs. "We need him to be a leader on offense and defense. He's certainly got his work cut out for him. Trey's got a lot of ability. And if we get that ability going in the right direction, he continues to work, learn the offense and do those little things as he goes along I think he'll have a good year.

"If he takes care of some of the leadership things and the little things that makes good players, then certainly I think he'll have a good year."

Lewis spent time last year as a starting receiver on offense, which he said has aided him immensely in his transition to play caller. But, he admits the switch has had it's trials.

"It's been challenging sometimes," Lewis said. "But, when things get tough you just have to fight through it. You have to keep learning and within reps you'll get better.

"Being a returning starter on offense, I pretty much knew the offense but coming in and playing quarterback and learning from a new perspective was sort of challenging. I haven't really had any mental challenges because a pretty much knew all the plays."

The rest of the Bulldogs have full confidence in Lewis. They feel he can lead them to where they want to go.

"He's really good," Porter said about Lewis. "He might even be better than Juqualin Wiggins. He has sparks where he looks all-state in my opinion. We'll just have to see."

Taking over on the ground will be senior Darryl Howard and junior James Watson.

The trio of Jackson, Wims and Wiggins help set a team record of total rushing yards last season with 3,956 yards as one of the state's reliable backfields.

They combined that stout run game with talented receivers on the outside in Dixon and Jordan Williams. Dixon tied the record for most receptions in a season with 44 to go along with 689 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Williams finished with 465 yards on 24 catches and five touchdowns.

Primed to be one of Lewis' go-to targets will be senior Janeil Hatchett who has shown big play ability just like Howard and Watson behind the tackles.

Once again, the Bulldogs will be looking for the aforementioned seniors to lead them through the season.

"Particularly when your coming back off of what we came off of and we want to maintain that level, and even get to the next level, we've got to have that senior leadership," Gibbs said. "So far, our seniors are doing a pretty good job. I'd like to see them a little more vocal at times, but as far as work, I feel pretty good about them.

"When you look at those guys you've certainly got a good nucleus there. We can go to them and tell them 'we have to get better here or do better there.' They really take care of things."

Tasting the success from last season certainly has the Bulldogs itching to return to the state playoffs. After dominating the regular season in every facet as well as rolling through their first three games of the post season until meeting Jefferson City Helias who ended their season, Gibbs has commended this team for not letting last year's success go to their heads.

He said that it's going to take the same kind of work ethic and the things that they did last year in practice to get back to that point.

"Certainly, you have to use (last season) as motivation because that's where we are," said Gibbs. "Being 13-1 is better than being 2-8 and we're going to keep shooting for those good records and those conference and district championships.

"I don't think any of our kids have a sense of entitlement," Gibbs added. "They've been working pretty good and we've gotten better week by week which is what you hope to do."

Last week's jamboree at Hillsboro gave Sikeston a chance to see just where they were among some of the state's toughest potential, Class 4 competition. MICDS, Potosi and Hillsboro all gave the Bulldogs a good measuring stick on what it might take to go all the way this year.

"When we were good, we were great," Clark said. "What we have to eliminate right now is the big play. That's the only time that anyone scored on us (Friday night). I see us up there with them. If not better than them."

Ending the season better than they left last year's is on the minds of every single player on the Bulldogs' roster. To them, it's not out of reach to believe they can make it even if they had to replace almost every key player that got them there.

They were given the opportunity to gain valuable experience during last year's run which they all plan to use as they chase the dream of playing for a state championship.

"I think the motivation is there for those guys," Gibbs said. "They've talked about that and the fact that we just don't want this to be a one year deal. We want our program to be where every year, we're challenging. I look at it as, we kind of have a responsibility now. We've got a responsibility to those kids before us and a responsibility to the community to hold up our end. The big thing is to live up to your potential and get better every week. If you do that, things will take care of themselves."

"I see this team hopefully playing 15 games this year," said Lewis. "That's a long way from now but hard work will get us there. I see the fight in our eyes. We're just going to come out and work hard. It's all about getting better.

"Hopefully, it will be a long season for us."