Winder-Barrow will be featuring a new look on offense in pretty much every sense of the term, with some new formations and a lot of new faces.
Head coach David Wagner says the Bulldoggs’ traditional wing-T attack will be augmented by more varied sets from a spread offense designed to highlight some more dynamic athleticism the team figures to have this season.
“We want to be balanced — a 50-50 attack,” Wagner said. “We’ll try to take what the (opposing) defense gives us.”
Wagner makes no secret that the most prominent feature in the spread sets will be senior wingback Chandon Sullivan, who produced 594 yards of total offense and five total touchdowns a year ago.
And Wagner admits those numbers could have, and probably should have been, higher.
“Looking back on it, we probably should’ve gotten (the ball) to him more last year,” Wagner said of the Georgia State-committed senior. “He’ll definitely be a feature back in that (spread) package this year. And we have some up and coming young skill kids, too.”
With last year’s quarterback, Christian Hodge, having given up football to concentrate on baseball, the most important skill player, outside of Sullivan, may actually be a returning senior, though he is new to the Bulldoggs’ varsity.
Hunter Cooper, who played in the Winder-Barrow program as a freshman and as a sophomore with the junior varsity program, is back after taking a year off from football last year.
And Wagner has been impressed with the work the senior has put in during the offseason.
“He doesn’t have varsity experience, and he’s kind of a one-shot deal being a senior,” Wagner said of Cooper. “But he’s been in our program before, and he’s really developed as a quarterback. He had a great summer.”
Cooper’s main target may be another senior returning after a year off in the form of Markesio Anderson, who was forced to miss all of last season with a fractured leg suffered during the preseason.
The biggest area of concern for the Bulldoggs’ offense will be finding the right combination on the offensive line to protect Cooper and open holes for Sullivan and the rest of the backs to run through.
“We’ve got (senior) Tyler Junius back as a three-year starter at left tackle,” Wagner said. “Outside of that, we don’t have many returning starters. Anthony Gates played some at guard and tackle for us last year, and Soloman Sims played center for us last year, but he’ll play mainly at Mike linebacker on defense this year.
“We’ve had a few kids come back and some young kids are stepping up.”
As many changes as there are on offense, the Bulldoggs’ defense figures to have an even more radically different look this fall.
“I’m as much of a 4-3 coach as there is,” Wagner said. “But I realize we have certain pieces to the puzzle. And a good coach has got to adapt to his personnel. We’ve been short on linemen the last couple of years, so we’ve shifted people around, and we’ve dabbled in a three-man front — some 3-4 and 3-5.”
Agustin Salas is perhaps the best returning option on the line after making a combined 52 tackles for the Bulldoggs a year ago.
The linebacking corps seems to be better stocked with experience, with Sims moving from offense, and junior Jeremy Ramsey, who had 69 tackles and a sack in just nine games last year, returning.
The secondary will also have some important experience back with the return of junior Braydn Randall, who is the Bulldoggs’ leading returning tackler after making 79 stops, as well as an interception, last year.
NEW BLOOD, NEW ATTITUDE
The Bulldoggs’ were going to enter 2013 with a much more positive attitude than the past several years no matter what else happened during the offseason.
Breaking a 31-game losing streak and giving Wagner his first victory since becoming head coach late last season was enough to lift a huge burden off the Bulldoggs’ shoulders.
However, those positive vibes may be enhanced with the arrival of a young group of sophomores ready to give the Winder-Barrow program a shot in the arm.
“We’ve got about 30 or so sophomores who were on our ninth-grade team that went 6-1 last year,” Wagner said. “And those kids didn’t lose very often in middle school. I think they lost one game in two years. So, this is a class we feel like can help turn the program around, in combination with the juniors and seniors already here. … This is just a fun group to coach.”
While the sophomore class is being looked as a potential game-changer for the program, at least one senior may be changing some perceptions of the Bulldoggs’ already.
With his recent commitment to Georgia State, Sullivan is the not only the first Winder-Barrow player to commit to an FBS school in Wagner’s tenure as head coach, he is believed to be the first Bulldogg senior to commit to such a program since current offensive line coach Jason Austin headed to Memphis following his graduation in 1997.