LIVE OAK — With size, speed, future collegiate athletes and a current professional on the roster, there wasn’t much that the 2014 Suwannee High Bulldogs didn’t have.
But those Bulldogs, seeded 13th in the “Best of the Suwannee Valley” pick ‘em tournament, don’t have one thing that their first-round foe, fourth-seeded 1989 Suwannee does: a state title.
The Bulldogs were loaded with talent in 2014 when they advanced to a state semifinal and finished 12-2.
Current Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Trysten Hill played both ways for SHS. Southern Mississippi running back Steven Anderson was under center at quarterback and UNC Charlotte running back Aaron McAllister was a big-time receiver and playmaker. Penn State basketball player Jamari Wheeler was also a big-play threat at receiver.
“The Final Four, 2014, that was one of the best years I can remember as a coach,” said Josh Jacobsen, who was SHS offensive coordinator at the time. “Two transfers were really important – Trysten Hill came from Madison and Lucas Plum Olson who was from Denmark. We had Aaron McAllister who did it all. Jamari Wheeler was a huge boost at slot receiver, Denzel Washington at running back, and Jai Kinsey was the top fullback I’ve had as a coach.”
The defense pitched three shutouts that season while the offense scored 33.4 points per game. The team also showed plenty of grit in the first two rounds of the playoffs, coming from behind twice, which included a memorable game against South Sumter.
“We lost to South Sumter in 2013 in the first round of the playoffs. We told the team we would see them again next year and beat them,” Jacobsen said. “It was a hostile environment. They love their football. They were ranked No. 1 at the time in 5A and we came away with 24-22 win.”
Who would win?
Mike Pittman, Suwannee’s coach in 1989, would have taken some of that talent.
Coming off two straight state championships, Pittman admitted the SHS coaching staff wasn’t expecting a third straight title at all.
“They shocked us,” he said. “Because we never in our wildest dreams thought we were going to win a state championship. As a coaching staff, we just thought we were going to struggle. It was going to be a rebuilding year. And things just happened for us.”
But having to replace nearly the entire offensive and defensive fronts as well as record-setting receiver Matt Frier, the Bulldogs turned to new faces and found the same results.
Freshman Billy Plummer emerged alongside Terry Williams and Marcus Nelson in the backfield to form a triple-headed monster, which was key when John Palmer — Suwannee’s returning starters quarterback — was injured early in the season against Madison County and missed time.
It helped, too, that the Bulldogs’ defense showed plenty of bite. In Suwannee’s three playoff games, it allowed just 16 points.
“Obviously, it ended up being the best defensive team out of all of them and with a bunch of no-name kids that had been brought up through the system,” Pittman said of a unit, led by linebacker Chad Mobley, defensive tackle Erwin Stansel and safety Eric Smith.
“They were big-time overachievers. But they had that winning attitude that we had developed and they weren’t going to be the ones that let the streak end.”
Editor Jamie Wachter contributed to this story.