Posted: Monday, August 13th 2012 at 9:42am
Football 2012: Wolves reloading but still ready to roll
By Morgan Lee Editor
BUFORD -- The numbers alone would stagger most programs: 32 seniors graduated and 19 starters to replace.
Anyone with even a passing interest in high school football, however, can tell you that Buford is not most programs.
Yes the Wolves’ starting units were decimated by graduation, but the cupboards are hardly bare at a program that played for a fifth straight state championship in 2012, finishing as Class AA runner-up.
“We definitely have some good players,” Buford coach Jess Simpson said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are ready to step out of the shadows. But we’re also definitely trying to reload. This is as much youth as we’ve had in a long time.”
Experience isn’t something that comes overnight, and Simpson expects some growing pains as his players step into starting roles.
“It will be a process,” Simpson said. “Part of being a young team is finding an identity, and we want to discover what ours is going to be. But the only real way to do it is to play it out and see what develops.”
Whatever traits that entails Simpson hopes strong defense -- a Buford staple -- is near the forefront.
“We’d like to hang our hat on defense again,” Simpson said.
With nine full-time starters to replace that might initially seem difficult, but Buford has plenty of players that received ample playing time in 2011 -- a function of winning games by an average margin of 43-7, as the Wolves did last season.
The defensive line features two veteran players in senior defensive tackle Josh Cardiello (a University of Georgia commit) and senior defensive end Mikey Bart, while junior linebacker Korie Rogers spent much of last season as the team’s second leading tackler (as a back-up). The secondary also features returning senior safety Jaylen Mize.
Defensive end Tyler Shipman, middle linebacker Deion King, outside linebacker Bryson Jordan and defensive backs Tre’ Neal and Grant Hall round out a defense that should include plenty of talent and speed.
“We’ve got some long, pretty bodies out there that move really well,” Simpson said. “And the secondary really likes to hit and is athletic.”
The Wolves’ offense, meanwhile, will continue to rely on the ground game to set up the pass. And the big question is who will be doing the passing, as a quarterback battle has developed between juniors Montgomery VanGorder and Taylor Mitchell.
“They’re really about even and both have done a great job,” Simpson said. “I wish both could play, but as we’ve seen with a lot of teams, two-quarterback systems just don’t work well. We’re going to have to name one.”
The other key question relates to who will be protecting whichever quarterback earns the starting spot.
“Last year our two-deep at the offensive line consisted of nine seniors and a junior,” Simpson said.
Cardiello was that lone junior, and he will return to a spotlight role in 2012. He will be joined by Nick Lulkowski at center, while Nick Polino, Hunter Holland, Garrett Roebuck, Jimbo Mansfield and Nick Angle all battle to take a starting spot.
“We’ve been working hard all summer and forcing the kids to compete and prove themselves in practice up on ‘the hill,’ ” Simpson said. “It’s been fun to watch, and the seniors have really led the way.”
Buford will also feature a standout placekicker in senior David Petroni, though Matthew Bonadies may also get experience kicking off.
“Playing Buford football doesn’t just mean putting on a helmet, it’s whose inside that helmet that makes the difference,” Simpson said. “We’re excited about moving to Class AAA and playing in the region we’re in.”
BUFORD: NEED TO KNOW
TEAM COLORS: Green, Gold and White
CURRENT REGION: 7-AAA
HEAD COACH/RECORD AT SCHOOL: Jess Simpson, 8th season, 96-5
2011 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 14-1, won Region 6-AA, finished as Class AA runner-up
KEY LOSSES: LB Dillon Lee (now at Alabama), LB Andre Johnson (now at Coastal Carolina), LB Nathan Staub (now at North Carolina), OL Vadal Alexander (now at LSU), QB Sam Clay (now at Georgia Tech for baseball), CB C.J. Moore (now at Virginia), TE Kurt Freitag (now at Alabama), DL Dequan Clark (now at Georgia Southern), S Paris Head (now at Vanderbilt), DE Rick LeGrant (now at UNC-Charlotte)
OFFENSIVE STYLE: Pro set, multiple I -- the Wolves pride themselves on a grinding ground game but will also hit for big pass plays.
KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: Sr. OL Josh Cardiello (Georgia commit, only returning starter), Sr. RB Dontravious Wilson (500-plus yards rushing in 2011), Jr. RB Thomas Wilson, Sr. TE Mikey Bart, Jr. FB Donte Gordon -- QB battle between Jr. Taylor Mitchell and Jr. Montgomery VanGorder
DEFENSIVE STYLE: 4-3 -- Buford gets after the ball en masse and usually overwhelms opponents at the line of scrimmage. This season’s unit promises to be one of the fastest the Wolves have fielded.
KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: Sr. DT Josh Cardiello, Sr. DE Mikey Bart, Jr. LB Korie Rogers (second leading tackler through regular season last year), Jr. MLB Deion King, Sr. S Jaylen Mize (returning starter)
SPECIAL TEAMS: Sr. P/K, P David Petroni -- a standout kicker through his career, the Wolves count the senior as a strength for the team.
STRENGTH: Intangibles/speed -- Just because Buford graduated a lot of talent doesn’t mean the cupboard is bare -- far from it. And the next group of Wolves is eager to show they belong amongst the great teams in Buford history. The 2012 Wolves also boast a ton of speed, especially on defense.
QUESTION: Inexperience -- Buford must replace the loss of 19 combined starters on both sides of the ball and a 32-man senior class. And while there is enough talent to do so, the newest group of Wolves will have to learn on the job.
KEY GAMES: The Wolves open against two strong programs in Elbert County (Aug. 31, away) and Gainesville (Sept. 7, home). The Blue Devils feature one of the state’s top running backs in Tyshon Dye, while the Red Elephants were Class AAA semifinalists a year ago. The Wolves finish the 2012 regular season against North Hall (Nov. 9, home).
TRENDING: Buford went 14-1 and finished second in Class AA in 2011 -- and that was a disappointment. Need we say more? OK,over the last seven seasons the Wolves have lost five total games.
Aug. 31 at Elbert County
Sept. 7 vs. Gainesville
Sept. 14 vs. Hancock Central
Sept. 28 at Banks County
Oct. 5 vs. West Hall
Oct. 12 at White County
Oct. 19 vs. Dawson County
Oct. 26 vs. Fannin County
Nov. 2 at East Hall
Nov. 9 vs. North Hall
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