By Josh Mills ~ firstname.lastname@example.org
PORTAGEVILLE -- After battling through three straight football seasons without a mark in the win column, the Portageville Bulldogs are looking to get out to a hot start in 2008. Head coach Lee Wallace said that the Bulldogs have been practicing hard throughout the summer and early in the school year, but that there is a lot of gray areas as far as positions are concerned.
"Our numbers are up," said Wallace, speaking of his 2008 squad. "That's encouraging, and for the most part our athletes are out for the team, which is another plus.
"The one thing that we're behind from last year's team on is we're lacking a little bit of leadership," he said. "We've got a pretty good young group out and nobody's really stepped forward yet. And, we've got a lot of positions where nobody has stood out yet, so there's a lot of unknowns."
Wallace, like many coaches in the area, said that adding the extra playoff game at the end of the season has forced teams to lose basically an entire week of regular practice. Instead, coaches now are preparing for game situations and walk-throughs rather than drills and conditioning.
He went on to say that younger players will have to step up their game so that roles can be defined and position swapping can come to an end.
As for what Portageville will be without this season, Wallace said the biggest thing is that there's no star or singled-out athlete.
"Right now we don't have any stars, and that could be a good thing," he said. "Nobody is going to stand out, and we will all produce and take turns carrying the load. That's pretty unique that we don t have anybody standing out."
Last season's standout was Mikey Johnson, who battled game in and game out alongside a core of other solid players, including Cody Cook, T.J. Smith and Chad Bradley.
"We lost good kids from last year's team even though they didn't dominate their positions," said Wallace. "Mikey (Johnson) was the most talented person we lost, and even though we do look better on paper this year, we're unproven. So, we can't wait to start getting to play and mature.
"Right now, we're being realistic and we're realizing that we're going to have to mature as we go," he added. "There will be a few bumps on the road, but it'll be fine. We're going to shoot for those last three games."
As for what the Bulldogs do have to offer this season, offensively there are six returning starters on the roster. Along with the six coming back with experience, Wallace said he has two that have potential to be key players that haven't had much recent experience at all.
"We've got a couple of sophomore backs that didn't play last year," said Wallace. "Oshea Minnis broke an ankle on the first day and Fred Treadwell didn't play. They were two really good backs for us as eighth-graders so they're out there and that's encouraging, but they're not tested at the varsity level."
Defensively, Portageville has seven returning starters including Caden Robbins and Fernando Minnis.
"They're going to anchor us," Wallace said. "They're two young sophomore middle linebackers. At safety, Landon Roberts brings us experience, too. Beyond that, there's a bunch of question marks."
The weakest point, Wallace said, is the lack of experience.
"Even with our seniors, like with D.J. Birdwell, this ' is just his second year playing. He didn't play as a freshman or sophomore. Dometric Treadwell, he hasn't played. He played as a freshman, but he missed a couple of important years as a sophomore and as a junior.
"Probably the most experience returning is Wayne DeLisle and Brandon Hinds," said Wallace. "I'll go ahead and plug them in at outside linebackers. They're two pretty good tacklers. We look at them as seniors to really solidify those positions."
Looking to the schedule, Wallace said that it's natural to look ahead and see who is coming up and in what week.
"Mountain View Liberty will be a handful right off the bat because they've got some tough backs," he said. "We matched up well with a few other teams last year with our sophomores, but there's not really a weak sister on our schedule. Even teams like Caruthersville that may be down, they could still give us a handful. We're going to shoot for those last three games."