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Monday, Sep. 1, 2014

Preview: Sikeston Bulldogs have many holes to fill in 2011

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

(Photo)
Sikeston assistant football coach Steve Drake watches as running back Chris Word works on an agility drill during a recent Bulldog practice. Sikeston opens the season at home on Friday night when they host Gateway Tech.
(David Jenkins, Staff)
SIKESTON -- In 2009, the Sikeston Bulldogs had their most successful season in their illustrious history of football, going 13-1 and reaching the state semifinals in Class 4, shattering numerous school records along the way.

So for an encore in 2010, the Bulldogs duplicated their success, shattering even more records along the way to another 13-1 season.

With the 2011 season almost underway, Sikeston's expectations in football are at an all-time high on the heels of those two magical seasons.

While head coach Kent Gibbs says he wants his team to strive for excellence, this year's team still has many question marks heading into Friday's season opener against Gateway Tech.

"Our expectations aren't going to change what we want to accomplish and what we want to do," Gibbs said. "We may start differently. We may be different in the middle. But in the end we want to challenge for a district championship, and a conference championship and get in the playoffs and see what we can do. Now it may take us a while to get to where we want to go with new faces and things like that, but in the end that's where we want to be."

There will be plenty of new faces for the Bulldogs, who were hit hard by graduation last year, losing five players that got all-state recognition. In all, Sikeston returns just five starters from last season.

One of the biggest names to replace is record-setting all-state quarterback Trey Lewis, last year's Carr Trophy winner.

Vying for the position are three players, senior David Foster (5-7, 140) and juniors Drew Harper (6-1, 185) and Kyland Gross (5-10, 150), none of which has separated themselves in practice.

Foster served as the backup last season completing three passes for 40 yards and rushing for 151 yards and three touchdowns. Harper completed three passes for 74 yards with a touchdown and had one touchdown run.

The speedy Gross was used as a utility player on offense last season, rushing for 276 yards with a TD and catching nine passes for 125 yards with a TD. He also had a kick return for a score.

"Our quarterback position is in a state of flux right now," Gibbs said. "We've got David Foster, Drew Harper and we've worked Kyland Gross there. There's nothing settled at that position. It will be who performs that week in practice and who performs in games, and ultimately who does the right things and who is able to lead our offense. That will be the guy we put there."

Replacing all-state running back Darryl Howard will be a trio of talented backs. Senior James Watson (6-0, 170) is the leading returning rusher with 478 yards and nine touchdowns. Sophomore Chris Word (5-9, 185) saw a little playing time as a freshman, rushing for 154 yards and three touchdowns. Also in the mix is junior Nick Nichols, an impressive looking 6-foot-2, 185-pound athlete.

"Those three guys are getting the majority of the snaps," Gibbs said. "It will be some combination of those three. And right now all three of those guys are playing a lot of defense so it will be a situation where we'll have three guys in the mix and we'll try to rest them enough to where they can play well on defense. But we've got three kids there that can get the job done and depending on the hot hand and who's playing defense and who we see week to week, that's who will be in there."

Finding a replacement for record-setting receiver Janiel Hatchett is also a priority. Senior Keldon Warfield (6-2, 175) is the top returner, catching four passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. The other receiver position is still up for grabs.

"We feel like Keldon Warfield gives us some experience there," Gibbs said. "He's a long, tall kid that runs well and works extremely hard and he knows what we want done. On the other side we've got a host of guys that haven't separated themselves for various reasons. We'll have Eldridge Gibson, Andrew Hicks, and Jacob Stinnett has been out with a hip situation, so he could be in that mix once he gets healthy."

The Bulldogs return two starters on the offensive line in seniors Ben Walker (6-3, 240) and Clayton Driskill (6-2, 225).

Gibbs is hoping the new faces can step up and fill in the gaps. Seniors Austin Henson (5-10, 210) and Connor Hamra (6-1, 235) and juniors Matt Green (6-2, 190), Blake Flannigan (6-2, 190) and Troy Kottman (6-2, 195) are all expected to see time on the offensive line.

"We've got a couple returners there with Clayton Driskill and Ben Walker and we certainly think they need to anchor our offensive line and give us some leadership," Gibbs said. "I think a lot of times, unless you're just set with a lot of returning starters, things work themselves out as the season goes on. I think that's going to be the case with the offensive line and other positions."

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs return just one starter in Gross at corner. He had a pair of interceptions and was regarded as Sikeston's best cover corner last season.

Joining him in the secondary is Watson at the other corner and Warfield at safety, who is one of the Bulldogs' top returning tacklers from a year ago with 34.

"We feel like the secondary ought to be a strongpoint for us," Gibbs said. "James Watson will be a starting cornerback, we've got Keldon Warfield at free safety and we've got Kyland, who is one of our very few returning starters at the other cornerback. We feel really solid there. Again we need to develop one or two other kids as backups."

One of the biggest holes to fill from last year is replacing Sikeston's all-time leading tackler in Ray Clark, and his cohort Treston Pulley, who was equally as dominant at inside linebacker.

Green and Flannigan have been pegged as their replacements this season with Harper ready as one of the backups.

At outside linebacker, senior Traveon Dennis (5-11, 160), who is Sikeston's leading returning tackler with 39 and one sack, and senior Kenton Robinson (5-7, 150) are slated to start.

"The big thing we can't do is think that just because you run somebody out there that they're going to perform like what we've had the last two years," Gibbs said. "Again that's a position that we've got to keep working at. We feel like that could end up being an area of strength. We need several guys that need to step up and be backups because there's a chance both of those kids will play some offense."

On the defensive line Sikeston must find a way to replace stalwarts Corey Porter and Michael Perkins and a pair of ends that wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks in Faylon Marshall and Ben Burton.

While the replacements may not have the sheer size and girth of Porter or Perkins, they will provide the Bulldogs with some quickness on the edge and pretty good size in the middle.

Nichols and Word will see some time at end. Also seeking playing time are junior Markeith Bratcher (6-0, 180) and sophomores J.T. Jones (6-2, 200) and Peyton Boyd (6-0, 220).

Vying for time in the middle are Boyd, Walker, Hamra and Kottman.

"We've got four or five kids at defensive end," Gibbs said. "They're all getting some snaps. None of that is settled and it will be a situation where we go with the hot hand and try to find the best combination of kids that are making plays and are coachable. Inside, there's some things we've still got to look at and see how it pans out as we go."

Senior Hunter Williams returns as the Bulldogs' punter and kicker. He converted 87 percent of his extra points last season.

Gibbs indicated that this year's team has some talent, but the team is short on leadership and experience.

Following Friday night's jamboree scrimmage in Hillsboro, Gibbs said plainly, "we've got a lot of work to do. We're not even close to where we need to be. We need to get better with our work ethic and we need to understand, to get to where we want to be at the end of the year it all evolves with how we practice. We've got a long way to go with that regard."

Gibbs wouldn't go as far as to predict how many wins or losses his team this year's team will have, but he does hope his team keeps focused on the biggest goal at hand, reaching the playoffs.

But the question still stands -- can the Bulldogs come close to what they've accomplished the past two years?

"Those are special seasons," Gibbs said. "Whether you can do that again or not depends on the group of kids that you have. My deal is, our expectations of getting in the playoffs are always going to be there. Now depending on the competition of the teams you see, injuries and things like that, are we going to go 10-0 and 13-1? I don't think anybody can say that. Just as we couldn't say we would be 13-1 going into last season.

"I think what you have to understand is that we welcome and we want the higher expectations. We're not going to hide from that. But at the same time those expectations for us is to get better every practice, to practice hard enough to get better and to make a run in the playoffs. Does that mean we're 10-0 every year or 7-3? I would rather be in the playoffs with a couple losses than to be 9-0 and get beat your last game and not get into the playoffs. Does that translate into 13-1 or 7-3? There's too many variables there. We'll just have to see how that works out."