The more experience a team has, the better prepared it is for challenges that arise during the season.
And the Cecilia coach Terry Martin knows he has plenty of kids coming back who are capable of leading the Bulldogs to a memorable season.
He just hopes they can stay healthy.
“We still need some work. Our biggest concern is, we have a lot of players coming back probably one of the more experienced teams we’ve ever had,” Martin said. “But our problem is that behind those guys we really don’t have much depth at all.”
The Bulldogs are returning 10 players who saw playing time on offense last season, including quarterback Landon Roberts and running back Raymond Calais Jr., and another seven or eight players on defense from last year’s 4-6 squad.
But don’t let the record deceive you, the Bulldogs had a talented team last season that were brought down by a brutal schedule.
Martin hopes the experience can mask a lack of depth throughout the squad, something that has been exacerbated during spring and summer workouts.
“Just in the past couple of weeks we’ve had a defensive lineman decide he didn’t want to play anymore and he had a chance to play a lot and possibly even start,” Martin said. “And then we had an offensive lineman who started in the spring decide he didn’t want to play anymore either.”
Martin said while the 22 who start in week one he has confidence in, he wants to get younget guys a lot of reps during summer workouts to best prepare them for any scenario in which they might have to be inserted in during the regular season.
“When we put that first 11 on the field in that first game, they might look all right, but we don’t have a lot of experience behind it,” Martin said. “So that is our main concern right now, just trying to stay healthy which is always a concern; but especially this year.”
One thing working in Martin’s favor toward building depth is his senior class’ willingness to put in the work and lead the younger guys through workouts.
Martin said this is one of the first springs he can remember where the coaches really didn’t have much to yell and scream about.
“One of the nicest things I saw this spring was we didn’t really have to tell them what to do like it’s been in the past,” Martin said. “We had lots of experience up front, so they knew what was going on.”
Even though the Bulldogs didn’t get as much work as Martin would’ve liked in the spring, the new, compressed schedule compounded problems created by Mother Nature, he said every team around the area had to deal with the same issues.
“You talk to any coach around and this is the worst spring we’ve had. I looked back on it and we only had three days where we were able to stay outside all day because of all the rain,” Martin said. “We got a lot of work in the gym, and there were some days where we could start outside but we’d get chased inside by lightning or rain.”
Martin said portion of the game most affected by the rain was the Bulldogs passing game, one of their strengths last season thanks to Roberts and an experienced corps of receivers.
Passing games rely on timing, and the only way to develop timing is through reps, so Martin said he wants to get the Bulldogs’ passing attack where it needs to be through 7-on-7 competition during the summer.
“It really had an effect on us in the spring game in terms of throwing the ball,” Martin said.
I thought last year was one of our best years we’ve ever had throwing the ball, but this spring it just wasn’t there for us.”
Martin said rather than using the 7-on-7 tournaments to compete with other teams, the Bulldogs try to teach as much as possible; stopping the game during teaching moments and recording an end zone view of all the games to trade with opposing teams in an effort to learn.
Getting the passing attack humming along will help the Bulldogs explosive running game led by Calais.
Martin said traditionally teams have stacked the line of scrimmage in an attempt to slow Calais down, but most teams weren’t able to do that last year with the constant threat the Bulldogs could go deep.
“With the back that we have coming back, people would always load up on us like crazy,” Martin said. “So one positive thing about last year was we had the ability to throw the ball and throw it deep where we wanted to because it opened up a lot of things.”
The Bulldogs did lose receiver Ronald Malbrough from last season’s squad, but return plenty of players who were active participants in last year’s passing attack.
Martin said while the Bulldogs might not have the one guy who can take the top of the defense, Roberts spread the ball around to five of six receivers per game at times last season, so he thinks they will be able to manage.
“We did lose our biggest deep threat guy, but we have a good group of receivers coming back so hopefully we can get it going and continue to open those running lanes for (Calais),” Martin said.
Calais will often motion out and work out of the slot as a receiver at times to utilize his speed, and possibly get a young player Martin is excited about some touches at running back.
Sophomore running back Ryan Malbrough has impressed Martin throughout the offseason, especially after Calais pulled his hamstring in the state track meet and was forced to sit out.
He finished second behind Calais in the 200-meter dash at the district track meet, and has showed explosive athletic ability.
“He’s 6-foot-1, 190 pounds and he ran almost a 22-flat in the 200,” Martin said. “He’s shown some ability.”
Martin said his defense will improve this season as well in the second year of a new defensive system.
“Last year we had a scheme change with the new defensive coordinator and I thought the teaching was good but we would have breakdowns every now and then,” Martin said. “But I think this year we are a little more prepared and we’ve got experience.”
The Bulldogs defensive line should give opposing teams something to worry about, with both Darius Gordon and Chris Broussard returning their 320-pound frames to clog up the middle.
Gordon’s ability to draw double teams will open up room for other lineman or linebackers to rush the passer and disrupt running plays in the backfield.
But Martin said the Bulldogs still weren’t quite where they needed to be overall, and hoped through the rest of the summer they could improve and get ready for the regular season.
“So that is what we’ve been using the summer for, trying to get those things down and get the timing right. We slow the pace down in the summer to try and teach as much as possible,” Martin said.