The district may be new for the Suwannee Bulldogs, but the goal hasn’t changed.
After barely missing out on district championships the past three years in District 3-5A, the Bulldogs are now focused on securing the title in District 2-5A.
“The first day, we talked about our No. 1 goal was to win a district championship,” Suwannee coach Kyler Hall said. “That’s been the goal since we’ve been here and we’ve been right on the edge. We got in last year with the new points system, but that just drives you so much because you’re so close.”
The Bulldogs have indeed been close in all three years under Hall’s tutelage to that elusive district crown. In 2016, a three-team tiebreaker at Langford Stadium didn’t go Suwannee’s way followed by a pair of punt return touchdowns leading to a one-score loss to Ribault in 2017. Last year, Suwannee scored a touchdown in the final minute against Ribault only to miss the extra point that would have sent the game into overtime.
Those close encounters are what Hall expects again this year, just against the likes of Godby, Rickards and Wakulla now.
“Really, if you look back at the last couple years it comes down to 1 or 2 plays each of those seasons,” he said. “It’s going to be the same thing this year. Wakulla, Godby and Rickards, you have to play almost perfect.
“I think this year’s district is as pretty close across the board, all four teams.”
If Suwannee is to emerge from that competitive district, a pair of experienced playmakers and a 4-star offensive tackle will be leading the way.
Josh Braun, a 6-foot-6, 335-pound Georgia commit, headlines an offensive line long on experience but short on depth. Braun, who has started since he was a freshman, is joined up front by returning starters Emyrick Blue, Reagan Berry and Dawson Chitwood. The lone newcomer is center Tate Van Etta, a senior.
“So as good as that group is going to be, that’s how good we’re going to be,” Hall said. “In money moments, in crunch time, that group right there has to be able to take over a game. And I think we can do that.”
If that group does take the game over, it will make things easier for senior quarterback Tyree Taylor, a three-year starter, and do-everything playmaker Jaquez Moore. Taylor threw for 1,077 yards and 11 touchdowns a year ago, while Moore rushed for 332 yards and eight touchdowns with an additional two scores and 258 yards receiving and even one touchdown passing. He also scored twice on defense.
The 5-11, 185-pound junior will be used offensively at running back, receiver and quarterback once again.
“You can place him in there and he’s going to make plays, it doesn’t matter where he’s at,” Hall said of Moore.
Joining Taylor and Moore in a backfield needing to replace the 1,071 yards and 11 scores of Carlton Hall will be DeMarius Thompson, Antonio White, Nyalen Seymour and Kale Twiggs.
Hall said the Bulldogs will likely mix and match from that deep group unless someone emerges. All will also be utilized on defense as well.
“So we have to be smart with our rotations but when it’s money time, your best guy has to be out there and we’ll see as we go along who that is,” Hall said.
Likewise, Suwannee will feature a number of potential playmakers out wide. In addition to Moore, Suwannee’s deep receiving corps features Wesley Jones, Dylan Brantley, Terrell Atkinson, Hunter Corbin (who also can be utilized as a tight end in certain formations), Jonathan Mosley and Malachi Graham.
“He has some dog in him,” Hall said of Jones. “We’re looking to him having a really good year.
“If that group can play well on top of what we have in the backfield, we’re going to be hard to stop.”
Defensively, the Bulldogs will be replacing its entire defensive front from a year ago in Keandre McKay, Moleyk Jones, Jay Williams and Billy Duchaj. Leading that group into the season will be White, Robert Robinson as well as youngsters Garris Reed and Antonio McKinney. The offensive linemen will also be rotated in on the defensive side of the ball, Hall said, in order to provide some additional bulk.
Behind that group is a linebacking corps, led by Seymour and Twiggs — a returning starter — that Hall has confidence in.
“He has a chance to be big time at inside linebacker,” Hall said of Seymour. “He’s very physical. He’s strong. I think he’s kind of … taking control of the defense.”
They will be joined by Blaine Howard, Thompson, Keshawn Jones, Andrew Brown and Moore, who has slid down to linebacker this year from the secondary, although he’ll see time there as well.
“He better get his rest when he’s not playing,” Hall added about Moore. “And he likes that. He accepts that role. He gets mad when you take him off the field.”
That secondary group will also feature Taylor, Jones, Atkinson and Graham as well as Travis McKinney and Keiwan Ladler.
“He can be a really good player,” Hall said of Ladler, who is related to former SHS greats Kelly Jennings and Bruce Johnson. “For a corner, he is very physical.”
Suwannee will look completely different on special teams, needing to replace its long snapper, punter and kicker. Freshmen Braxton Green and Matthew Gookins are currently working on the kicking and punting duties with Austin Branch doing the long snapping.
“If you ask me any spot that just keeps me up at night, it’s that one,” Hall said, while noting the young specialists have talent, they are just untested. “It’s how we’ve lost the district championship pretty much.”