"Last year was a unique year in itself," 12th year Head Coach Hugh Shurden said of a season that saw the Bulldogs go 2-5. "We can complain and gripe about what happened to us football wise. The year was a very tough year to stay focused on things you needed to do as a player.
"This is small compared with the things the people had to deal with," he said. "Every team was affected by the shortened season, some more so than others. Hopefully, the good Lord will give us the opportunity to put a full season together and get that stuff behind us."
Shurden said his Bulldogs showed to be much improved both offensively and defensively.
"We would shoot ourselves in the foot on third down," Shurden said of last season. "We've got to have a defense that can stop people. We've got to have an offense that is consistent about moving the football and taking care of the football. There are going to be times when we will get stopped. Stops are a lot different than turnovers. If we do those things, we've got a chance to be a good football team."
Of the defense, Shurden said, "Coming out of the spring we were better than we were a year ago. We still have places we can get better, no question. The front is the heart of our defense. That area has been quite improved. How we fare against the rest of the offenses in this league is going to be week by week. We've got a really good chance to be good on defense this fall.
"I can say this, we were better in the spring than we were in the fall," he said of the offense. "We might have been missing an offensive lineman or two that could have helped in the spring. But as far as understanding schemes, I thought they had a better understanding on what they were doing and where they were going. We've got to be able to move the football. In this league, you've got to be able to score points. We've got the capability to do so."
After a few disappointing seasons coming off the 2002 state title, Shurden said his expectations have not changed. "Our expectation every year is to win the North and play for State," Shurden said. "This could happen to anybody in this league. I think in this league anybody can rise up anytime and bite you. Going into this season, we have as good a chance as we've had in quite a while. The humbling quality of this league can blow expectations out of the water really quick. We will be tested early."
On the defensive front, Jarvis Hines of Atlanta has the most experience.
Also returning is Jarrod Grace of Murrah. Shurden is also looking for help from Curtis Shepherd, who prepped at Forest Hill.
Joining Hines, Grace and Shepherd on the defensive line are Allen Spencer of Yazoo County and Larry Hart of Madison Central.
The Bulldogs have no returnees at defensive end, but 6-foot-5, 230-pound Glenn Tillmon of Grenada and 6-foot-4, 260-pound Antonio Godfrey of Atlanta who played the positions during the spring.
Newcomers Tim Cox of Murrah and Marshall Guess of J.Z. George will see time at end.
The Bulldogs' leading tackler last season, James Neal of Valdosta, returns at linebacker. "I think he made quite a few strides in the spring," Shurden said. "He came out of the spring doing a lot of things better than he did a year ago." Neal finished the 2005 campaign with 43 solos and 25 assists.
Richard Welch of Madison Central and Orlando Teague of Kosciusko also saw some action at linebacker last season.
Freshman linebackers include Derrick Vaughan of Velma Jackson, Andrew Rivers of Hillcrest Christian, LaJuan Johnson of Murrah and Timothy Isaac of Brundidge, Ala. and Pike County High School. Johnson could also play defensive end.
In the defensive backfield, Adrian Jackson of Murrah, William Coleman of Weir, Lewis Jones of Grenada and Dustin Evans of Olive Branch each saw action last season. Jones finished the season with 36 tackles while Evans was the team's second leading scorer with 53 including 34 solos. Jones and Evans play safety while Jackson and Coleman are cornerbacks.
Freshmen fighting for playing time include Tarbarris Hicks of Yazoo County, Deedra Day of Velma Jackson, Julius Griffin of Clinton, Kendrick Jobe of Ackerman and Eldridge Wilkins of Velma Jackson.
Solidifying the longsnapper position is sophomore Ryan McInnis of Northwest Rankin. "He's solid at that position," Shurden said. "I expect him to be offered a Division I scholarship for his snapping ability. He's an excellent, excellent student."
Handling the punting duties will be Taylor Mullins of Carroll Academy. Eddie Carmona of Charleston, Ark., will do the placekicking.
Offensively along the front, Kenny McGhee of Seminole, Ala., brings the most experience. Nick Hedglin of Madison saw some time last season along the front but suffered an ankle injury which limited his time. Patrick Jaco of Yazoo City played in last year's season finale against Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
The freshman class includes Jacob Black of Ethel, Lee Bradshaw of Yazoo County, Johnvonta Brooks of Winona, Andrew Mason of Madison Central, Anthony Teague of McAdams and Robert Williams of Lexington.
The Bulldogs have no returning quarterback for this season, but Shurden said sophomore Chris Herron of Kosciusko showed well in spring drills and is the No. 1 quarterback going into fall drills. He is also the first recipient of the Dwaeuntre' "D.D." Davis Courage Award and will wear No. 11 during the fall.
Davis, who was killed on the Goodman Campus in Spring 2005, was a wide receiver for the Bulldogs in Fall 2004. The award goes to a Bulldog player who exemplified Davis' character on and off the field. The coaches chose Herron as the recipient after spring drills.
"We are really proud of him," Shurden said. "He represents a lot of qualities we look for in that award we presented to him. We are putting a lot of weight on his shoulders. He doesn't shy away from it. He'll take it and go right on.
Herron had 20 carries for 56 yards last season and caught nine passes for 161 yards and a touchdown.
Joining Herron at quarterback will be Zach Williams, 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds from East Webster, Rod Lacy, 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds from J.J. McClain and Michael Kirschsten of MRA, 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds.
The Bulldogs had no returning running backs this season. Antoine Courtney had emerged after spring drills as the leader at the position. Early in fall drills, he broke both bones in his arm and will miss a month.
Tim Paul of Manchester, Sayquan Jordan of South Carolina and Rodney Vaughan of Velma Jackson will fight for time at the spot.
Returning wide receivers are LaMarcus Russell of Winona, Antonio Bailey of Durant and Kerrye Stewart of Canton. Russell had 14 catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns last season. Bailey had one catch for 11 yards and Stewart had 1 catch for 22 yards.
"All of those guys have size," said Shurden. Other freshman receivers include Terrance Gary, Tyshun Oates and Jonathan Yates, all of Eupora, and Marcus Wiggins of Grenada.