Suwannee competes in new district
Published: Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 6:33 p.m.
It has been 10 years since Suwannee made the playoffs, but second-year coach Jamie Rodgers appears to have the Bulldogs poised to make a run at ending that streak.
2012 record: 3-7
Coach: Jamie Rodgers (second year)
Key games: Sept. 13 vs. Santa Fe; Sept. 20 at North Marion; Oct. 4 at Eastside
Players to watch: RB/CB Justin Martin (Sr.); OL/DL Frank Smith (Sr.); QB/RB Denzel Washington (Jr.); Jeffrey Clayton, Sr., OT/DE; Aaron McCallister, So., QB/ATH
(All games at 7:30 p.m.)
Aug. 30 Bradford
Sept. 6 at Hamilton County
Sept. 13 Santa Fe*
Sept. 20 at North Marion*
Sept. 27 Idle
Oct. 4 at Eastside*
Oct. 11 Belleview*
Oct. 18 Dunnellon*
Oct. 25 at Fort White
Nov. 1 Crystal River*
Nov. 9 Columbia
* District 5-5A games
With a solid nucleus returning from a squad that went 3-7 in Rodgers' first season, combined with a year of hard work in the weight room and the addition of some promising young talent, there could be some serious barking coming from the Dog Pound in Live Oak.
“The biggest change I've noticed is in the weight room,” senior lineman Jeffrey Clayton said. “We've all gotten a lot stronger. A lot of us have had big jumps since coach Rodgers got here.”
The Bulldogs also are excited about joining District 5-5A after having toiled in a smaller district with Tallahassee schools Godby and Rickards as well as Crawfordville Wakulla recently. Their new district home is a seven-team race that includes Santa Fe, Eastside, North Marion, Dunnellon, Crystal River and Belleview.
“This is a brand new start for us,” Rodgers said. “It's a new district and a completely new schedule than we've had in the past.”
“That's very exciting,” said senior two-way line standout Frank Smith. “We're excited about matching up with some new teams and hopefully getting to the playoffs.”
Suwannee was once a football juggernaut, with the Bulldogs winning four straight state titles from 1987-90 under former coach Mike Pittman and later reaching the state championship game in 1999 under Jay Walls, who is now at Navarre.
Things have been rough since, though, but Rodgers, a former assistant at Baker County who is in his first stint as a head coach, is trying his best to get his players to understand that tradition.
“The only way to do that is to be successful and have some wins,” Rodgers said. “Success breeds success — you'll hear coaches say that a lot. It's just a matter of taking one step at a time.
“It was pretty bad. We were 1-9 a couple of years ago, and 3-7 wasn't what we wanted last year. We should have won a couple of more games, but that's just kids not understanding how to win. Our expectations are to win more games this year and then get this thing rolling with some good young players we've got coming in.”
Among the top returnees are three seniors in Smith, Clayton and running back Justin Martin as well as junior Denzel Washington, last year's starting quarterback who will likely play more at running back this season as versatile sophomore Aaron McCallister will get a shot at playing quarterback in addition to running back and wide receiver.
“My expectations are to go to the playoffs,” Washington said. “I think we have the talent and ability to do it. We just need to go out and win.”
Rodgers prefers the excitement be tempered.
“When you start talking about how many games you're going to win in a season, it may not work out,” he said. “You can't foresee injuries and things of that nature, but you can take care of your commitment to the team. I just want to see our kids compete harder than they did last year.
“The game is supposed to be fun. Everything else is hard work, but when you get to Friday night, it's time to go play hard and have fun. You're guaranteed 10 games, and each one lasts about three hours. That's 30 hours, and they have spent hundreds of hours in the weight room. That's very important.”