Chris Wolfe says he has an analytical mind, which serves the Male High School football coach well on Friday nights but might have driven him a bit mad the past eight months.
His Bulldogs enjoyed a fantastic 12-2 season in 2013 but saved their worst game for last, falling to eventual state champion Scott County 24-10 in the semifinals of the Class 6-A playoffs.
Wolfe spent much of the offseason contemplating what happened. Was it the cold weather that slowed his pass-first offense? Was it an emotional letdown after back-to-back victories over St. Xavier and Trinity? Was Scott County simply better?
“It’s hard to figure out,” Wolfe said. “I’ve gone through all the different scenarios, and there’s no way to know for sure. I do know if we find a way to execute better that we’re going to be more successful in those games. The question is, ‘How do you execute better?’ “
That’s been the offseason theme for a Male squad that has just one goal: a state championship. The Bulldogs have plenty of starters back — eight on both offense and defense — and join Scott County and Trinity as the preseason favorites in 6-A.
At No. 91, Male is the only Kentucky team in the NationalHSFootball.com preseason rankings.
“I’d be lying if I said our goal and dream wasn’t to win a state championship,” Wolfe said. “There’s no other way to put it.”
The Bulldogs averaged 35.6 points per game last season and hope to improve on that number despite the loss of Marque Northington, who set state records for receptions in a season (108) and a game (26).
The spread offense runs through senior quarterback Davis Mattingly, whom Wolfe entrusts to make all of the calls and reads at the line of scrimmage. He passed for 3,152 yards and 27 touchdowns last season.
“He’s light-years ahead of where he was this time last year,” Wolfe said. “I think you’ll see a completely different Davis. He really didn’t find his groove until the playoffs, and he’s above that level now.”
The top two rushers also return in seniors Ellis Cain (1,381 yards, 18 TDs) and Tyrone Wilkerson (389 yards, eight TDs). They’ll run behind a line with four returning starters, led by senior Houston Sparkman (6 feet 1, 280 pounds) and Isaiah Arnold (6-4, 358).
Junior Keion Wakefield (41 catches, 888 yards, 11 TDs) is one of the state’s most heralded wide receivers, with scholarship offers from the University of Kentucky and Cincinnati. He also earned Receiver MVP honors at Oregon’s summer camp.
Seniors Will Edwards and Evan Bibb and juniors Ethan Britt and Zackery Smith provide depth at the skill positions.
“We are a lot deeper at receiver and running back than we were last year,” Mattingly said. “We’re going to be able to go way faster this year and attack defenses better.”
As part of his hopes for better execution, Wolfe has been putting his receivers through extra drills. After a recent practice, several receivers worked with a JUGS machine that fired footballs at them from a short distance.
“There is that thing of, ‘What is the one thing we’re missing?’ And you don’t want to miss it,” Wolfe said. “You don’t want to be, ‘Well, we could have done more on the JUGS machine. We could have done more on tackling.’ Instead of us worrying about schemes, it’s worrying about how we can execute that scheme a little bit better. … It is kind of fanatical.”
The defense is anchored by end Marcus Davis (6-2, 245), who led the Bulldogs in tackles (90½) as a sophomore. Linebackers Malik and Mike Malone were lost to graduation, but Wolfe is excited about returning starter Stephen Miller and newcomers Jack Kuerzi and Larry Burns.
With last year’s success, Wolfe knows his team will have a target on its back. He expects the race for the 6-A championship to be a tight one, with Scott County, Trinity and Manual all in the mix.
“A proud program like (Trinity), I expect that they’ll be much, much, much better,” Wolfe said. “The same with Scott County. Now that they’ve gotten over the hump and won one, the offseason and how hard they work is going to be impressive.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and followed on Twitter @kyhighs.