Coach Ryan Sulkowski will be wearing a new hat as the Baker Wildcats launch the first week of spring football practice.
Sulkowski has taken over the middle school program for the spring.
“It will be exciting to see 175 kids on our practice field,” said Sulkowski. He is handling the middle school team while they look for a head coach to replace George McDuffie. Sulkowski likes the opportunity that gives him.
“We are making the middle school and high school program a seamless unit,” said the new Bobcats coach.Danny Green did something similar during his tenure as Wildcat head coach. Though he didn’t go so far as to take over the middle school program, he installed the high school playbook on the middle school level. Green felt it enabled the middle schoolers to already have a working knowledge of the Wildcat playbook when they entered BCHS.
With Sulkowski at the reins at least through the spring it gives those middle school students a chance to learn the discipline and fundamentals it takes to play at the level he demands.
Sulkowski also has holes to fill in the high school program and will be looking carefully at players to step up and take roles vacated by graduating seniors.
The biggest hole is at quarterback, where Corey Lawler looks to step into the big shoes left by Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk. Lawler has some experience, having started against Paxon this season. He is a two-year backup and is expected to be pushed by sophomore Jacob Carter as well as Travis Jarrell.
Falon Lee has what looks to be a lock on the featured back role. Lee ran for 2100 yards over two seasons. He was a first team All District selection and finalist for the Army Ironman award for the top two-way player in the state. Once you get past Lee, however, things get a little sketchy.
Coach Sulkowski will by looking at sophomores Kyler McCray and Reggie Givens, senior Drew Rogers and junior Mike Boone. One bright spot is senior Tyler Lokey, who will be playing for the Wildcats for the first time. Lokey is a track star and the fastest player on the field.
Another huge hole is at wide receiver where Carolina Tarheel Kendrick Singleton set records. He will be a hard man to replace, and Sulkowski is looking at Brandon Miller, Logan Fox, Rogers, Boone, Lokey, Valdez Jackson, Blaine Merchant, Brody Crews and Jacob Stalvey to fill the gap.
“This spring will be a measuring stick as to whether this group of young men can push for starting positions and handle a Friday night under the lights against opponents such as Lake City Columbia, defending state champion Bolles, Bishop Kenny, Clay and Bradford,” Sulkowski said.
There’s a lot of pressure to perform this off season.
“It’s challenging to think about the teams we will face in 2012 with such a young group, but that’s what makes it fun,” said the head coach.
The Cats welcome back most of their offensive line. All District Blake Mills, Jon Kinney and Braden Gray will return and the staff will look at Freshman All American CeCe Jefferson. Casen Noles, Natavian Griffin, James Carter, Garrett Dotson and Skyler Lane will also get consideration.
Falon Lee was a third team All First Coast defensive back last season and second in interceptions in the area. He anchors the corner position and Mike Boone will compete on the other side. Sulkowski will look at a number of people to fill the safety slots.
The position hardest hit by graduation is linebacker. Rashodd Hadley, Darius Greene and Talmadge Turner will vie with Trey Taylor, Hunter Chambers, Brody Crews and Thomas Rollins.
CeCe Jefferson is the standout on the defensive line. He already has a scholarship offer as a freshman from the University of Louisville and had an armful of awards including All First Coast, All District and 3rd team All State. Eli Lee looks to hold the other side of the line. The pair combined for 18 sacks last season.
Jon Kinney, Lenny, James Carter, Blake Mills, Griffin and Lane are also poised to take snaps with the first team.
“We hope to answer a lot of questions this spring as we did last year at this time,” said Sulkowski. “We are going to be young, but we need to grow up quickly.”
The coach praised their work ethic and determination, but stressed that they can’t live in the past. “This is a new season, new beginnings,” said Sulkowski. “The only thing to do is outwork any other team who shares the common goal of being the top 5A team in the state in December.”