The Bulldogs defeated East Mississippi, 42-14, before falling to Mississippi Delta in a heartbreaker, 23-21, and defeating Coahoma, 23-20, to end the season.
"Last year was very disappointing for all of us," Shurden said. "One of those years we felt we were going to be better than we played on the field. We just didn't produce.
"We didn't coach any differently than we did the last two years," Shurden explained. "We got a couple of wins late in the year which let us feel better about ourselves. We finished the year with a fairly good taste in our mouth."
The Bulldog coaching staff felt the focus on T-E-A-M was not there. "We devoted our coaching aspects in the off-season to team-oriented things," Shurden said. "We stressed the importance of being together. We hope that is going to carry over to the season."
In the spring, the Bulldogs' hearts were heavy after losing freshman wide receiver D.D. Davis after a tragic on-campus shooting. "That dwells on everybody's mind," Shurden said. "He's on mine. That incident will make a difference to our team.
"We try to stress to them that nothing's guaranteed to anybody," he said. "We need to make the best of what we've got." He feels the returnees are a lot closer, and he expects the sophomores to teach the younger players this philosophy as well.
Along the defensive front, the Bulldogs return four players, none of whom started for the Bulldogs last season.
Kilmichael's Douglas Butts (pictured at top), 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds, is expected to do big things at defensive end. Due to an ankle injury last season, Butts only collected nine tackles. "He's projected to be a great player," Shurden said. "He's got a lot of proving to do. He doesn't have a lot of playing time, but he has great potential."
Also at defensive end will be 6-foot-2 and 225-pound Herbert Floyd of Weir, who had limited time on defense and matched Butts' tackles. "He played a lot of playing time on special teams," Shurden said. "I'm expecting good things from him. He's worked hard in the off-season. He's due some time on the field."
Yazoo City's Derrick Brewer, a 6-foot and 230-235 pound red shirt, will battle with Floyd and Butts at the defensive end. "He shows signs of the ability to make plays," said Shurden.
Returnees along the defensive line are Malachi McGee of Velma Jackson and Atavis "Sarge" Campbell of Winona.
McGee, at 6-foot-3 and 265 pounds, saw more action than all the others along the defensive front. "He's an excellent student of the game and has worked hard this off-season," Shurden said. "He should be a highly recruited prospect."
The 6-foot and 252 pound Campbell moved to defensive interior from the defensive end spot during spring drills. "Pound for pound he's one of the strongest players in the league," Shurden said. "He's seems to have found a home. His leadership ability will be great for the team." McGee had 14 tackles while Campbell had 5 last season.
Making a return to the Bulldogs after missing last season due to academic reasons is Grenada's Jacobi Avery, a 6-foot-2 and 242 pound lineman. Avery had 65 tackles as a freshman including 33 solos. He had 2.5 sacks, two caused fumbles, one recovered fumble and three blocked kicks. "He played defensive end in 2003 and moved to defensive line for the fall," Shurden said. "He's a lot bigger than he used to be. We're proud to have him back in the fold."
A.J. Hicks, a 5-foot-11 and 210-pounder from Vicksburg, started a few games for the Bulldogs last season at outside linebacker. Hicks finished the year with 38 tackles last season including 25 solos.
Joining Hicks at linebacker will be Brian Cryer of Ocean Springs. The 5-foot-11 and 232-pounder didn't see much playing time because Louisiana Tech signee Jason Anthony never left the field.
In the defensive backfield, Kosciusko's Torrey Stewart returns to the safety position. The 5-foot-11 and 180-pounder finished with 65 tackles for the Bulldogs last season including 42 solos and two interceptions. "He played both positions (strong and free safety) during the season and did very well," Shurden said. "He's extremely talented. I'm expecting big things out of him." Shurden said Stewart can play cornerback if needed.
Weir's Keldrick Docher, a 5-foot-10 and 170 pound cornerback, broke his ankle during the season. "He could be our starting cornerback," Shurden said. "Hopefully he's ready to go." Docher had 12 tackles before being injured.
William Coleman, also of Weir, is a walk-on cornerback at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds. Shurden said, "He doesn't mind hitting you."
Jaudee Lilley and James Neal of Valdosta High School, Ga., Jarvis Hines of Atlanta, Ga. and Curtis Shepherd of Jackson will be battling for playing time along the defensive front.
Lilley is a 6-foot-3 and 235 pound defensive end while Neal is a 5-foot-11 and 225 pound end also. Hines is a 6-foot-2 and 285 pound lineman from Glenwood Academy and Shepherd is 6-foot-1 and 320 pounds.
Freshman linebackers include 5-foot-11 and 225 pound Richard Welch from Madison Central, 6-foot and 210 pound Jeremy Sherman from Eupora.
Cornerbacks include 5-foot-9 and 175 pound Adrian Jackson from Murrah, and 5-foot-8 and 160 pound Cody Washington of Winona.
Freshman safety is Lewis Jones, 6-foot and 200 pounds from Grenada.
Bulldog sophomore Matt Powell returns this season to do both the punting and placekicking. The 5-foot-7 and 170-pounder from Grenada made 7-of-10 extra points last season and 5-of-6 field goals. "He has an excellent leg," Shurden said. "He's a great kicking prospect."
Also battling Powell for a position is Benton Academy's Shane Arnold, who red-shirted last season. "He's a multi-purpose guy," Shurden said. "We expect him to challenge for one of the jobs....probably punting."
The person responsible for getting the ball to Powell and Arnold will be Northwest Rankin's Ryan McInnis, who is 5-foot-10 and 215 pounds.
Shurden said the Bulldogs' strength on defense will be up front. "Even though we are unproven at this time, we have guys that are really capable of getting things done," Shurden said. "We did a good job of signing guys. We should have good push up front. If you are going to be good in this league you have to be good on the defensive and offensive lines. I feel like we will have that."
The Bulldog offense features three returning offensive lineman. Brandon Johnson, a 5-foot-11 and 275-pounder from Yazoo City, and John Miller, a 6-foot and 290-pounder from Columbus, will return for the Bulldogs at the guard spots. Justin Williams, a 5-foot-11 and 240-pounder, will play center.
Grenada sophomore Jerimy Watson, 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, saw plenty of playing time either at quarterback or wide receiver for the Bulldogs. Watson had 86 yards on 28 carries and 206 passing yards on 23-of-74 attempts. He caught three passes for 28 yards. "We hope that experience will carry over this season," said Shurden.
Weir sophomore Eric Hoskins, 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds, started the 2004 season at fullback totting the ball 53 times for 212 yards and is returning this season. "He's the most unselfish young man," Shurden said. "He's just as happy about blocking as he is about carrying the football. We could even play him at linebacker if necessary."
Percy Wair of Velma Jackson at 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds is returning at running back. Wair had 17 carries for 55 yards last season and two touchdowns. "He runs extremely well," Shurden said. "He played some for us last season. We are expecting good things out of him this year."
Joining the Bulldogs in the spring was Onell Dubose, a 5-foot-8 and 200 pound freshman from Century, Fla.
Two receivers from last season will be back this season as well. Davarius Jackson of Canton and Jeremy Packer of Madison Central hauled in 82 and 103 receiving yards respectively last season. Jackson, 6-foot and 215 pounds, had one touchdown. "He runs and blocks well," Shurden said. "He has great hands."
Packer, 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, had two receiving touchdowns for the Bulldogs. "He has great hands and runs well," said Shurden.
Red-shirt Jason Evern, 6-foot-5 and 190 pounds from McLaurin High School, is expecting to battle with Packer and Jackson for playing time.
Seven offensive lineman will battle with three returning players for playing time along the offensive front. They include 6-foot-1 and 280-pounder Andrew Gordon of Grenada; Jarrod Grace, 6-foot and 270 pounds from Murrah; Nick Hedglin, 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds from Madison-Ridgeland Academy; Patrick Jaco, 6-foot and 260 pounds from Yazoo City; Greg Levinson, 6-foot-2 and 310 pounds from Yazoo City; Jeremy Lucas, 6-foot and 240 pounds from Madison Central and Kenny McGhee, 6-foot-3 and 265 pounds from Pensacola, Fla..
Caleb Easter of Hebron Academy is a 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds quarterback.
"Caleb possesses raw talent," Shurden said. "He has a good mindset of the quarterback position," Shurden said. "He can make a lot of good things happen."
Eupora's Jackie Hankins will be the only freshman running back in camp. Hankins is 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds. Mississippi Valley State University transfer, Jay Jones, at 6-foot and 210 pounds, will battle the returnees and Hankins for playing time.
Freshman tight end is Quinton Baskins of Winona. Baskins is 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds.
The Bulldog freshman receiving corps includes Chris Herron of Kosciusko, Lamarcus Russell of Winona and Kerrye Stewart of Canton.
Herron is 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds while Russell is 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds and Stewart is 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds.
Fans can expect to see the Bulldogs throw the football more than they have in the last few years. "The running game won't be abandoned by any means," Shurden said. "We have an idea that we were going to put ball in the air a little more. Our height is good at wide receiver, and they run well. Those are the guys we want to try to get the football in the hands of."
Shurden said he doesn't know what to expect this season. "This is one those unknown years again," Shurden said. "We've got fairly good numbers coming back but there's not a lot of playing experience there. Last year we had quite a few sophomores, but it didn't turn out the way we thought it would."