STADIUM: Bulldog Stadium, 6335 12th St., Zephyrhills CLASS-DISTRICT: 5A-6 (with Central, Hernando, Nature Coast, Pasco, South Sumter, and Weeki Wachee) COACH: Reggie Roberts (14-16, fourth season) LAST SEASON: 6-4
Transfers could be big help for Bulldogs
Trying to build on the success of the past couple of seasons, Zephyrhills got a boost in the spring by a couple of transfers. Senior Riley Murphy (5-foot-11, 275 pounds) has emerged as a force on the offensive line after transferring from Lennard and junior Ty Tanner has taken over at quarterback after leading Wesley Chapel in passing in 2011 and 2012.
“Riley was dominant in the spring game and he has looked great all summer,” Roberts said. “Ty has taken control of this team, both on the field and in the locker room, and I was surprised in how quickly he picked up the offense. He is a dual-threat guy. He can beat you with his arm and his legs. I am thrilled to have him running our offense.”
Problems with depth plagued Zephyrhills last season. With only 23 players on the varsity roster, many starters had to play both ways, which led to tired legs and diminished performance late in games. This year, the Bulldogs roster 38 varsity players, and the coaching staff has increased its emphasis on conditioning.
“This is the deepest team I have coached here,” coach Reggie Roberts said. “Last year, I think we let a few games slip away late because we didn’t have enough guys. We competed for three quarters, but then our guys would be sucking wind in the fourth. This year, we will have fresh legs — because of our depth and because I have been pushing these kids harder than they have ever been pushed. That’s intentional. We are deeper this year, numbers-wise, and we will need to show that on the field late in games.”
Experience at skill positions
Despite losing leading rusher Willie Williams to graduation, the Bulldogs return a talented core of skill players.
Seniors Devon Brockington and Malik Mutcherson each rushed for more than 400 yards, averaging more than six yards per carry, and junior Jaylen Pickett led the Bulldogs in receptions and receiving yards (averaging just under 20 yards per catch).
Roberts said these players, as well as senior wide receiver Jordan Roberts, “will line up all over the field, creating mismatches and getting the ball in space. These guys have been with me long enough to know the offense and to know what I am thinking when they are out on the field, so their experience will be vital to our success.”
Keeping everyone involved
The downside of a deeper roster, if there is one, is it can keep talented kids off the field. Roberts acknowledged his biggest challenge this year will be keeping everyone involved. “These are young kids that have trained all summer and they all want to perform, but there is only one football. It’s natural for kids to want the ball in their hands, so it’s up to (the coaching staff) to instill that team concept while keeping our players happy and motivated. Our issue will be finding enough ways to get our athletes the ball.”