By the time this edition arrives in the hands of local football fans, the preseason work will all be completed. Practice will be focused on Friday’s trip to Rockmart. Cedartown will be looking ahead after a scrimmage against Chattooga.
As the dog days of August give way to the break for the fair, and a packed September schedule, one thing is for sure for this year’s Bulldogs: they’re ready to don brand new helmets and show off the talent they’ve as the season gets underway.
Friday’s first test on the road against rival Rockmart is just one part of the long equation ahead for head coach Doyle Kelley to figure out as his second year in the position begins.
One thing is for sure: he’ll be holding the leash tightly on a team that has opportunity for tough play on both sides of the ball.
Let’s start with who is the top dog on offense for the year. It’s unques-tionably going to be a big year for senior running back Tony Mathis, who seeks to once again dominate the backfield and everything in front of him as he continues his quest to rise to the top and become a household name.
He remains a key part of Cedartown’s leadership on and off the field as well, showing the younger guys joining the squad this year how they can contribute and perform at the top. He also traveled a lot over the summer as well, one of a few players for the Bulldogs to take part in a Florida State University-hosted football camp back in June.
Expectations are high for Mathis.
He’s rated as the No. 68 running back in the 2019 recruiting class based on the 247Sports Composite system, and is the No. 1,038 overall prospect. He holds offers from Louisville, West Virginia, Wake Forest and others. He totaled 1,935 all-purpose yards last season (1,035 rushing yards, 456 receiving yards) while adding 444 yards on kickoff returns. Mathis finished with 28 total touchdowns.
Mathis will have plenty of help of senior Rashad Walker and junior Kobe Pryor, both returning starters to take up the rotation as well.
Kelley said that Pryor and Mathis will both be tackling the main duties in the backfield.
“We’re going to play both of them back there,” Kelley said. “Kobe (Pryor) has done a real good job in the backfield and come along real well. We’d be crazy not to have them in the backfield.”
Pryor joined Mathis at camp as a junior, and he’s the power behind the pair in the backfield. At 6 feet and 200 pounds over the summer, he already is showing off his talent too.
Programs like West Virginia and Purdue are interested in how he’ll develop in the two years he has left at Cedartown.
He said since both Mathis and Pryor will be playing both offense and defense, both will get to have some breaks as much as he can give them.
Just as key to the team are other seasoned players on the roster as well, along with some new faces who are seeking a chance to shine.
Quarterback Taji Hudson will get the opportunity to show off his throwing skills after having missed a lot of the summer workouts the Bulldogs had in 7-on-7 play with a foot injury. He got back to the team in mid-July, and has been throwing ever since.
Hudson is joined in competition for the starting spot in the backfield by sophomore Jayden Johnson as well as Jackson Bussey, but the expectation is to see Hudson starting against Rockmart this week.
“We’ve been working a lot with Taji (Hudson,) and Jayden (Johnson) has been getting some reps too,” Kelley said during a recent practice ahead of the Chattooga scrimmage. “We’re really know more after Friday night (Aug. 10) about what we’re going to do.”
Then there’s a whole other side of the team to consider as well for de-fense.
Guys like Will Pilgrim and Zah Frazier will be busy on both sides of the ball this year, but they are just a few of the key players to the Bulldogs being able to protect against passing and rushing offenses of all kinds. They’ll have to fill in for graduates like Cruz Rodriguez and Joseph Gibbons, who went on to play on the college level after leaving with the Class of 2018.
One key for Kelley is the offensive and defensive lines.
“We’ve got more depth on those lines than we’ve had,” Kelley said. “We feel good about it. We’ve just got to see where our quarterback situation is going to land.”
A lot of those questions were being answered in the Bulldogs’ trip to Chattooga County to play the Indians in their lone scrimmage of the year, since Kelley said they weren’t able to schedule an Aug. 3 game in the mix for the year.
After all, the team finished with a second round playoff appearance in 2017, and with the exception of a loss to Cartersville won out in the regular season including their opener against Rockmart at home.
There’s a lot of ground for the Bulldogs to have to run through before they can call the 2018 season a true success. But they are on their way to bigger and better things for the year as they reload their offense and defense and seek to dominate in Region 5-AAAA.