THOMSON — Twenty-six seniors, including a handful of collegiate-bound players, are gone from the Thomson team that carried a No. 1 ranking as far as the Class AAA quarterfinals a year ago.
Head coach Milan Turner and his 2013 Bulldogs, however, can’t afford to look back.
“I don’t know that you replace that,” Turner said of a senior-laden squad that went 12-1 against the state’s toughest schedule last season. “This is a brand-new group. We’re young. This team, they’ve got to go make a name for themselves. They can’t ride the wave of last year’s team. They’ve got to go make their own way. They’re doing all the things that they have to do ... the one thing we can’t give them is experience.”
With just two returning starters on offense and four on defense, these Bulldogs have a lot of growing up to do against another brutal schedule before a tough Region 3-AAA slate.
“We shouldn’t doubt ourselves,” said junior quarterback Chris Tutt, who along with lineman John Cody comprise the extent of starting experience on offense.
“I know we’re a young team but just come together as a team and we’ll become successful.”
Gone is the entire potent backfield that included 2,000-yard rusher Chris Jordan, explosive athlete Torrie Battle and versatile two-way star William Bussey from an offense that piled up nearly 5,000 yards, averaged almost 32 points per game and displayed a knack for being unfazed by early deficits.
With that kind of talent missing, including tight end Jordan Davis who signed with Georgia, the Bulldogs might look to utilize new strengths at receiver to open up the offense more.
Said Turner: “We’re still going to run the football. ... But we do have some guys who can catch the football. We feel like maybe we can throw the ball when we want and mix it up.”
Defensively, the Bulldogs return Jaquez and Stevon Hart up front and defensive backs Felton Hatcher and Quay Cummings
“I think (people are) really doubting us because we have a lot of young players, but the young players are still gonna bring it, too,” linebacker Antron Wilson said.
And while it might take some rebuilding, the goal remains the same at The Brickyard.
“Our expectations never change – we want to play 15 games and want to win championships,” Turner said. “That’s our goal. But we understand it’s a process and we can’t play game 10 or game 15 right now. I really like this team. It’s a really respectful, hard-working group of kids and it’s been a lot of fun to work with them.”