Preview: Young Bulldogs have potential to be stout
Thomasville High School in recent years has showed it's not how a team starts a season but how it finishes.
Saddled with brutal nonconference schedules, the Bulldogs have started slowly only to catch fire once the Central Carolina Conference season kicks off.
While this year opens with the likes of North Davidson, Mount Airy and Davie County, Thomasville, a squad that started 2012 with six straight losses before rallying to win six of of its last eight, including two in the playoffs, features all the makings of a team that only can get better as the season goes along.
"We're very young and inexperienced, so we have our work cut out for us," said THS assistant coach Dickie Cline. "It's not going to happen immediately. We've got to work hard and hopefully by conference time we'll develop into a good football team. If they progress fast, we're going to be able to compete earlier."
Faced with large turnover on both the offensive and defensive lines, how fast the Bulldogs progress depends largely on the development of their young players, many of whom are stepping into starter roles for the first time.
Senior Kharice Wilder (5-10, 230) anchors an offensive line with four new starters — junior Terrence Dewalt (6-1, 290), sophomore Tyson Hagens (5-10, 310), senior Derrick Cotton (5-10, 240) and senior Marcus Hogan (6-1, 290). Wilder feels the group has the potential to compete for a conference championship.
"We have a chance to hopefully be better than we were last year," Wilder said. "We have to work on coming off the ball and hitting the right person. We have to limit our mistakes. We have the talent we just have to learn how to use it. "
Senior Isiah Marsh (5-8, 150) opens the season under center, but could see time all over the offensive side of the ball. Cline said Marsh's versatility both as a receiver and runner, along with the emergence of sophomore quarterback Jalen Jenkins (5-9, 165), provides plenty of options for the Bulldogs offensively.
"We knew coming into the season that Ike was a good runner," said Cline. "He also is a top notch receiver. We've been impressed with Jalen, he throws the ball well. We're going to split time at quarterback. When Jalen is in, Ike will be at other places. It allows us to be more versatile and keeps the defense from keying in on one guy."
Gabe Brockett carried much of the load for THS in 2012, but no longer is there, leaving a substantial void to fill in the Bulldog backfield. Unlike last year, when Brockett toted the ball a majority of the time, Thomasville plans on utilizing several guys out of the backfield. Seniors Demoris Payne (5-10, 165) and Tommy Rodgers (5-10, 165), along with sophomore fullback Josh Scott (5-9, 190), all will see touches in an offense featuring many different looks.
Senior Marvin Johnson (5-10, 140), juniors Chantez Whitaker (5-9, 145) and Christian Young (6-0, 165), and sophomore D.J. Spann give THS a group of up and coming wide receivers who can spread the field and take pressure off the running attack. Junior tight ends Corbin Wilson (5-7, 145) and Quidell Hill (6-3, 200) also will figure prominently in the offensive game plan. Junior Brett Hokenson (5-9, 145) will handle the kicking duties.
"You have to play what your personnel is capable of playing at the high school level," Cline said. "We like to be physical. If we had our choice, we would be a physical running team with good play action. That's what we want to do. This year, we'll do multiple things. You may see four wideouts or two tight ends at times."
Marsh is excited about the versatility this year's offense possesses.
"We're not really a one formation team this year," said Marsh. "We're going to run multiple formations and are going to be more diverse this year. We’re working on getting our assignments down. Everybody has to get focused and serious and dedicate themselves to the game. We need to control the ball and not commit any turnovers. We're young, but we've got heart."
Much like the offense, the Bulldogs defense features a plethora of fresh faces led by a handful of returning seniors like Zack Anderson (6-3, 250), who anchors a front line lacking much experience. Sophomore Tyson Hagens (5-10, 310), senior Roy Norris (5-11, 260), junior Alfrederick Reamous (6-2, 265), junior Tyberous Love Ivory (5-10, 281) and sophomore Evan Makupson (6-2, 180) make up a defensive line that is still growing and facing a baptism by fire in the early part of the season.
"We have several guys playing varsity for the first time so we have to go about it slow," Cline said. "We can't progress as if we have a veteran squad like we've had in the past. We're really liking their attitude. They're working hard and we have good team camaraderie right now. They understand how hard they have to work for us to get to the point we want to be at."
Anderson feels the young guys will catch on pretty quick.
"I think we can win," said Anderson. "We have to come together as a team and work hard in practice. We have to fight hard and leave everything on the field."
Junior safety Akeem Davis (6-0, 170) and senior cornerback Cedric Green (6-2, 175) lead a defensive secondary with a good blend of youth and experience. Senior Malik Johnson (5-7, 140), junior Malik Peterson (5-11, 160), sophomores Tyquan Anderson (5-6, 145) and Kailon Bratton, and freshman defensive back Ja'hare Taylor Thomas are charged with shutting down opposing pass attacks so the frontline can focus on the run.
"It won't take us long," Davis said about the secondary's development. "We have to keep working harder and do the stuff we need to do to get better. We can't lose our practice habits."
Thomasville is relying heavily on sophomore Keith Clemmons (5-10, 225) to head a inexperienced linebacker corp that also includes senior Rashad Tucker and juniors Laquires Wilson (6-1, 175) and Jayquan Hinson (5-10, 205).
"It's a long process," said Cline. "We're a fundamental football team so if you stay the course and keep working hard on the little things, by the time it matters the most hopefully we'll be there. That's the plan and it's always been our plan."
A slow start to the season may send some teams into a panic, but Thomasville knows all-too-well that a few losses in August and September is not the end of the world. Once October rolls around and the CCC schedule opens up, chances are pretty good the Bulldogs again will be one of the teams to beat when it matters the most.
Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or firstname.lastname@example.org.