By Richard Greene | Originally published Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Walking off the field after a victory over Henrietta in the 2011 season finale, there was not a lot of celebration for the Alvord Bulldogs.
Instead the Bulldogs dwelled on what-could-have been after the Week 10 win.
“It was very frustrating,” said Alvord coach Curtis Enis. “It showed if we played that way to start district we’d have been so much better.
“It ranks up there with one of the hardest seasons I’ve been a part of in any sport.”
The Bulldogs finished 4-6, including 2-3 in District 3-2A Division II. Among the three district losses were setbacks to City View and Nocona to start league play. City View and Nocona each scored late touchdowns to hold off Alvord.
“Our problem last year was there was always a few plays per game that kept us from winning,” said Alvord senior linebacker Benni Browne.
Senior defensive back and running back Brandon Aeling said the returning players learned valuable lessons from those setbacks. Alvord returns five starters on each side of the ball and will have 16 seniors on the field.
“It was really a few plays here and there,” he said. “This year, we’re looking to make those plays. Our expectations are high this year. We hope to be playing meaningful games in December.”
While there’s many returning faces on the field, the Bulldogs will be working for several new ones on the sidelines.
For his second season as the Bulldogs’ coach since his one-year stint in 1997, Enis has surrounded himself with several new coaches, including defensive coordinator Pete Hart. The former Chico head coach has spent the past two years at Bridgeport.
Hart is one of three former Bridgeport coaches now on the Alvord staff – including offensive/defensive line coach Charlie Mann and defensive assistant Chris Staley.
Enis said the new staff members are a welcomed addition with their knowledge and experience.
“It’s a veteran staff,” he said. “We have a 20-plus year guy, 10-plus year guys, and there’s a familiarity and trust with each other. They have enthusiasm and intelligence of the sport.”
Enis and his new staff will have plenty of retooling to do to get the Bulldogs back on the path to returning to the postseason after a one-year absence.
The offense will be turned over to a new quarterback as Jordan Locklear takes over for last year’s all-district performer Trevor Hardee, who threw for 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Locklear and a cast of talented and experienced backs – including Aeling, sophomore Joe Randall and fullback Casen Baker – will power an offense that will rely on the running game far more this year.
“Our running game will be strong,” Aeling said. “We won’t pass the ball as much.”
The success of that running game will hinge on how a new offensive line comes together under Mann.
“With Coach Mann, they will be better coached and more physical,” Enis said.
Defensively, the Bulldogs have a lot of ground to make up. The unit struggled last year, especially against the run, and put the team in a hole routinely. The Bulldogs gave up 350 yards per game last year.
“Statistically we gave up a lot of yards rushing,” Enis said. “You could probably count the three-and-outs on one hand.”
Browne returns at linebacker and will be flanked by the Sam Backer Casen Baker in the team’s 4-3 alignment. The secondary returns experienced players at every position, including Aeling and Randall at the safety spots.
“We have the right players in the right spots,” Aeling said. “Defensively, we should do a lot better.”
The whole team will need to be better to get back to the playoffs in what is expected to be another tight race in the new 5-2A Division II.
Holliday, which was unbeaten in 3-2A last year with the same teams, remains the favorite. But Enis expects the other five squads to be closer to the Eagles and in tight battle for the league’s three playoff spots.
“Holliday is still the best in the district, and someone has to beat them to take that away from them,” Enis said. “Everyone is getting close to them. Henrietta, City View, Nocona and us – there’s probably not a three-point difference in any of those schools.”
The Bulldogs expect a much better feeling after Week 10 this year, which would mean another win and a trip back to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
“We’ll be disappointed if we’re not [in the playoffs],” Enis said. “A saying I’ve always used, ‘hard work doesn’t guarantee a championship, but without it you don’t have a chance.’ If we stay committed and do what we are supposed to do, the winning and the playoffs will take care of themselves.”
OFFENSE: FINDING THEIR GROOVE
The Alvord Bulldogs spent much of the 2011 season searching for an identity offensively.
The Bulldogs at times showed glimpses of brilliance like the final two games against Jacksboro and Henrietta as they scored 28 points and averaged 308 yards.
But there were also the shutouts against Valley View and Holliday.
The Bulldogs’ offense will now try to find consistency with the five returning starters and a new quarterback.
Senior Jordan Locklear takes over at quarterback for the graduated two-year starter and all-district performer Trevor Hardee, who threw for 1,400 yards and 15 scores last season.
With 6-1, 220-pound Locklear taking over under center, the Bulldogs look to usher in a power running attack. The physical Locklear will join an experienced group of backs, including Brandon Aeling, Joe Randall and fullback Casen Baker.
“With a running quarterback and the backs we have, we’re going to try to pound you, beat you up and control the ball,” head coach Curtis Enis said. “We want to control the ball and pass off the running game with a lot of play action. We’re going to play to our strength and run the ball.”
Aeling, who ran for 362 yards and five touchdowns last year, added, “The running game should be strong. Jordan will run the ball hard. Joe is as fast as anyone. Casen is a lot bigger and will be hard to bring down. With the four of us running the ball, we should be able to move the ball.”
Randall, who broke in with the Bulldogs as a freshman last year and ran for 543 yards and eight touchdowns, is expected to be a workhorse. He has missed most of the preseason because of an arm injury, but is expected to be ready by the opener.
Enis said last year’s experience will be a big help for the sophomore.
“Last year helped him prepare and fueled his summer workouts,” Enis said. “He knew it would be faster, but not that much faster. He thought he had prepared well. He saw the weaknesses he had.”
While the running game will be the focus for the Bulldogs, Enis points out that Locklear does have a strong arm, and the team will still be able to spread the ball out to Baker, Aeling, Keelan Nivens, Jose Luna and tight end Beni Browne.
The success of the Alvord offense will depend on the work up front of a mostly new offensive line under coach Charlie Mann. Enis has faith that Mann can get the unit of tackles Jacob Klein and Colby Windham, guards Evyn Beasley and Kane Rice and center Justin Heap ready for the season.
“It all starts with the offensive line,” Enis said. “With Coach Mann, they will be better coached and more physical. If they are solid and sound, we’ll be able to play to our strength and run the ball.”
The Bulldogs hope they are running back to the playoffs.
DEFENSE: DEFENSE WITH HART
Alvord veteran senior linebacker Beni Browne is still trying to get to know his new boss – defensive coordinator Pete Hart.
But so far, he likes what he seen and heard, even if he doesn’t always know how to take him.
“He’s crazy, but I love it,” Browne said. “He’s sarcastic, and I’m not sure when he’s mad or happy. But he does get serious sometimes.”
What Browne and the rest of his unit want to see is Hart turn around a defense that struggled throughout last season during the Bulldogs’ 4-6 finish.
Alvord coach Curtis Enis has seen Hart put his stamp on the unit in practice.
“He’s brought a lot of enthusiasm to that side of the ball,” Enis said. “He’s got an aggressive nature that kids feed off of.”
Last year Alvord gave up 350 yards per game, including 261 yards on the ground. Opponents scored 27 or more points in six games – including 41 for Whitewright and 42 for City View.
“We couldn’t get off the field defensively,” Enis said. “That put pressure on us offensively and took us out of our comfort zone.”
Enis expects Hart to help the unit’s 4-3 defense avoid performances like it had in back-to-back weeks against City View and Nocona. Alvord allowed 372 yards rushing against City View and 412 against Nocona.
Browne said the team had a lot of trouble keeping opponents from running up the middle.
“We gave up a lot of yards,” Browne said. “We have to make sure nothing gets up the middle.”
The Bulldogs plan to change coverages in the secondary and to blitz more.
Browne will be the focal point of the defense at middle linebacker. Enis expects the senior to be a solid leader for the unit.
“He got experience last year,” Enis said. “He’ll make things happen.”
He will be joined by Sam backer Casen Baker, who played safety and defensive end last season. Enis said he’s a natural outside backer.
“He plays downhill and has a great nose for the football,” Enis said.
Austin Gaskins and Brett Martin will see time at the Will backer.
Up front, the Bulldogs return Jordan Locklear at one defensive end spot. Jacob Klein will be on the opposite side.
In the middle, Enis feels like they have a good rotation of speedy, quick tackles with Kyle and Kane Rice. The Bulldogs will also bring in bigger tackles when needed: Colby Windham and Luke Freeman.
The secondary may be the anchor of the defense with Brandon Aeling, the team’s leading returning tackler with 65, back at one safety and Joe Randall at the free safety. Jose Luna and Ty Silvey are expected to man the corner spots.
“Jose has turned into an excellent corner,” Enis said. “Aeling is an excellent strong safety, and Joe has good speed and vision.”
The entire defense knows they are in the crosshairs and must improve to give the Bulldogs a chance to return to the postseason.
“We have a lot to improve on,” Browne said.
They also don’t want to make their new boss angry.
HOMETOWN HERO: CASEN BAKER
“I’m a pretty chill guy – not mean, but I can be,” Baker said.
That aggressive side comes out when the lights come on and the thrill of competition presents itself to the senior. No matter the field of play, Baker has one goal – win.
“I’m competitive,” said the three-sport star at Alvord. “I’m going to do what I’ve got to do to get the rebound, catch the ball or hit the ball.
“I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do and can’t hold anything back.”
His win at-all-cost attitude along with the athleticism in his 6-1, 210-pound frame makes him Alvord’s most valuable player, according to coach Curtis Enis.
“There isn’t anyone that won’t tell you our best player is Casen Baker,” Enis said. “Is he going to lead the team in yards, catches or tackles – probably not. But people are going to run away from him and load the box to stop him.
“He’s a player you want. It doesn’t matter what you are playing.”
Last year, Baker proved his worth to the Bulldogs by filling several roles on both sides of the ball. Offensively, he started the year as the team’s feature back and then moved to tight end.
He ran the ball 43 times for 170 yards and caught three passes last year.
Defensively, he started at safety and then moved to defensive end where he finished the season. He was in on 56 tackles, including one for a loss. Baker added two sacks and two interceptions.
Baker said it was unsettling to constantly be changing positions last year.
“It was tough,” he said. “But I had to do what I had to do to help the team.”
Enis said they used Baker to fix any problem the team had, and he never complained about moving around.
“He has a team-first attitude,” Enis said. “He will make any sacrifice to make the team better.”
This year offensively, Baker is moving back to the backfield to play fullback. It’s a position he’s never played, but he plans to give it his all. He said it was an adjustment playing running back last year.
“When I was little, I was always a big, fat kid,” he said. “Last year, it was strange getting the ball every play.”
He is looking forward to getting the ball on the run in the open field this year. The Bulldogs last year had several plays designed to get the ball to the fullback in space.
Defensively, Baker is moving back to his natural position at linebacker. He will man the Sam backer spot in Pete Hart’s defense.
“It’s what I played all through middle school through my sophomore year,” Baker said. “I love playing there, flying to the ball and hitting people.”
Enis expects Baker to shine at the spot.
“He’s as big as some guards,” Enis said. “He’ll be a load. There are not a lot of linebackers that will want to take him on. We have five running plays for him. He’ll also play a key role in the passing game. We want him to have 16 to 18 touches per game. He’s too valuable.”
Baker is about 15 pounds heavier than last year after spending the entire summer working out.
As a senior, Baker knows he will need to take a more vocal role in the locker room and on the field. He said that will be an adjustment.
But he is willing to do whatever it takes to avoid another losing season (4-6) and missing the playoffs again.
“It was heartbreaking not going last year,” he said. “We need to get our stuff together and win games.”
KEY GAME – OCT. 12 AT NOCONA: The Alvord Bulldogs had no answer last year to stopping the Indians’ Tate Fenoglio, allowing 328 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Fenoglio is back and it will be a test to see if the Bulldogs’ defense is improved and ready to contend in 5-2A Division II.
2012 ALVORD BULLDOGS
2 … Kyle Dunn … WR/DB … 11
5 … Troy Morales … RB/LB … 10
7 … Keelan Nivens … RB/DB … 11
9 … Ty Silvey … RB/DB … 11
10 … Brett Martin … WR/DB … 10
12 … JD Griggs … WR/DB … 11
16 … Jordan Locklear … QB/DE … 12
17 … Jonathan Musgrave … WR/DB … 11
21 … Jose Luna … WR/DB … 12
22 … Troy Morales … RB/LB … 12
23 … Benni Browne … TE/LB … 12
24 … Travis Hampton … WR/DB … 12
28 … Brandon Aeling … RB/DB … 12
29 … Casen Baker … RB/LB … 12
30 … Brandon Dodd … TE/DE … 10
33 … Bon Rogers … TE/DB … 11
34 … Shane McKinney … TE/LB … 9
38 … Joe Randall … RB/DB … 10
40 … Cody Blackwood … WR/DB … 12
50 … Kevin Baker … OL/DL … 11
51 … Kyle Rice … OL/DL … 12
52 … Jacob Klein … OL/DE … 12
53 … Austin Gaskins … OL/LB … 12
54 … Evyn Beasley … OL/DE … 10
55 … Kane Rice … OL/DE … 12
56 … Justin Heap … OL/DL … 12
63 … Mitchell Phillips … OL/DL … 12
66 … Marc Cruz … OL/DL … 11
74 … Colby Windham … OL/DL … 11
79 … Luke Freeman … OL/DL … 12
80 … Anthony Dodd … OL/DL … 12
Aug. 31 … Millsap … Here
Sept. 7 … Ponder … Here
Sept. 14 … Krum … There
Sept. 21 … Bowie … There
Sept. 28 … Gunter # … Here
Oct. 5 … Open
Oct. 12 … Nocona* … There
Oct. 19 … Holliday* … Here
Oct. 26 … Jacksboro* … There
Nov. 2 … Henrietta* … Here
Nov. 9 … City View* … There