Shortly before practice on Tuesday, Melbourne High football coach Todd Wilson called quarterback Sterling Munich to his desk and asked him a question.
“What are three things we talk about before every game that we have to do?”
Munich answered without hesitation.
“Not give up big plays. No turnovers. Win special teams.”
When you’ve heard something, as Munich estimated, “100 times,” it burns into your memory, and if Bulldog football players remember anything, it is those fundamental goals.
The results are that Melbourne is a regular contender in district competition. Despite rivals with perhaps longer rosters and more athleticism, the Bulldogs have been playoff-bound four of the past five seasons.
“I think it comes down to one thing, hard work, outworking people and being in really good condition,” Wilson said. “We kind of do what we do. We’d love to throw the ball 40 times a game, but that’s not us. We try to run the ball, stop the run and play good defense.”
The Bulldogs will try do those things again this season in what is shaping up to be one of the most competitive Class 6A districts in the state. In addition to a Palm Bay team with 16 consecutive playoff appearances, District 13 includes a talent-loaded Bayside squad and an improving Heritage program in its fourth year of competition.
Melbourne opens its regular season Friday against a Satellite team Wilson expects to be greatly improved over its 2011 version. The Bulldogs themselves are coming off a 3-0 preseason win over Sebastian River, a playoff representative last year with an experienced defense.
But it was Melbourne which, even after losing key defenders to graduation, got the shutout. It may be only a taste of its potential.
“I think we can play a lot better defensively,” Wilson said. “I really think we didn’t play a great defensive game.”
When they do, they can play with the best in the area and perhaps beyond. It almost got the team to the regional final last year.
That was the last time the Bulldogs played a game that counted. It was late November on Palm Bay High’s field when they lost a four-point lead in the final 10 minutes.
The Bulldogs didn’t meet those three basic goals. They turned the ball over and gave up a big play. Still, the bulk of a hard-fought 34-24 loss to the Pirates in November showed where the program has gotten with its approach.
This year, the team will try to battle through a loaded district to get back to that spot and beyond.