2015 Football Preview: Bulldogs bid to stay at top
By Travis Lisle
The 2015 Alvord Bulldogs will have some new faces after losing 15 seniors from the 2014 team that finished the season 7-4, with a perfect 5-0 district record in 5-2A Division I.
Among the seniors who graduated, Alvord needs to find replacements for all-state running back and linebacker Joe Randall, quarterback Cassidy Patterson and defensive end Mason Clower.
Despite the turnover in personnel, the newest version of the Bulldogs is loaded with experience from players like all-district linebacker/running back Damon Ledet, Connor Patterson and Jaylon White.
The Bulldogs play the same opponents from last season, and the toughest test may come from Muenster, ranked No. 8 in 2A Division II; or from Leonard, who beat Alvord 49-6 a season ago.
Last year, Alvord beat Nocona in a 38-8 romping before losing three straight to Grapevine Faith Christian, Leonard and Muenster. The team regrouped for six consecutive wins before a loss to Crawford in the bi-district round of the playoffs ended their season.
The Bulldogs allowed 27.2 points per game last year while scoring 29.8. Despite the small margin between points allowed and points scored, the average difference in each game was a massive 33.4 points.
In fact, the closest game Alvord played in was a 21-point loss to Muenster.
The Bulldogs averaged 107.7 yards on the ground during losses, but posted 287.1 rushing yards in victories.
Bringing more balance to the attack will be key for new offensive coordinator Jeffery Alexander, who will likely move Damon Ledet from fullback to tailback and let Connor Patterson take over the role of quarterback left by his brother.
As a sophomore, Patterson was used almost entirely on the defensive side of the ball, collecting 46 tackles.
Ledet carried the ball in short-yardage situations as a fullback, averaging 3.8 yards per run, but he is ready to prove that he can take over as the lead back.
“We’ve got a whole new offensive package coming in,” head coach Pete Hart said. “Of the six coaches on staff, we’ve got three new faces. We’re replacing quite a few seniors so there are a lot of differences in the team.”
The Bulldogs will run a “Multiple I” offense that is more of a pro-style set with the ability to move players into different formations.
Defensively, the Bulldogs will be similar to last year with the return of head coach Pete Hart and defensive coordinator Chris Staley, utilizing four linemen and three linebackers in most packages.
“We’re more of a 4-3 defense. The non-district schedule will have us in a lot of 4-3 to stop the run,” Staley explained. “We’ll jump into a 3-4 against Grapevine Faith, but Muenster and Paradise will be smash-mouth football, so we’ll stay in that 4-3 to keep seven guys in the box with ‘cover 2′ or ‘cover 4′ behind it.”
Staley said that Jonah Hancock, Jaylon White and Ledet will play crucial roles as leaders on the defense as well.
New coach adapts to team
Alvord’s new offensive coordinator Jeffrey Alexander doesn’t want to complicate things for a Bulldogs offense that averaged 361.6 yards per game and 33.3 points.
“The terminology that I’m familiar with will change a little bit, but it’s going to look very similar to what it was last year,” Alexander said. “It’s a ‘Multiple I’ offense, which basically means that the formations can vary tremendously. We’re trying to keep things as consistent as possible because they had a lot of success last year, and there’s no sense in coming in and trying to change it.”
Still, Alexander will have the task of replacing the 196.1 yards and 2.9 touchdowns that all-State running back Joe Randall averaged during his 2014 senior campaign.
To help in the running back department, Alexander will look to senior Damon Ledet, whose offensive experience is limited, but who has shown his athleticism entering his fourth season on the varsity squad.
Last year, Ledet had 49 tackles as a star linebacker for the Bulldogs. This season he says he’s ready to take on the extra workload of being the team’s starting running back.
“I think I’m ready,” Ledet said. “I’ve prepared my body to play both ways and worked really hard over the summer. I look forward to it.”
Though Alexander wants to make the offense familiar to his new players, that doesn’t mean he will stick with one way of doing things.
The coach prides himself on his ability to adapt to personnel and team strengths.
“I’m not one of those guys that comes in and says, ‘This is what I’ve done and this is what we’re going to do.’ No, we’re going to do what our kids can execute the best to give them the best chance to win,” Alexander said.
The Alvord coaches are taking it slow as the offense learns to execute the new playbook – perfecting one play before moving on to the next.
Alexander declined to name a number of points or yards he would like the offense to accumulate. He just wants the team to play sound football and take care of each possession.
“The No. 1 goal is the win,” he said. “Early on in the season the goal is to eliminate mistakes and turnovers. There have been statistics done at every level of football from high school all the way up to the pros that (prove) turnovers lead to losses.”
Bulldogs hope to stay stingy
Alvord’s Defensive Coordinator, Chris Staley doesn’t like the bend-but-don’t-break moniker, but he admits it applies to his defense’s playing style.
“I hate to say it, but that probably fits us pretty well,” Staley said. “We want quarterbacks to throw short routes underneath, and we want to come up and make a lick on receivers and force them to line up and do it again.”
The Bulldogs hope to limit plays over 10 to 12 yards to just once or twice a game.
Staley wants to force opposing offenses to run enough plays that they’ll make a mistake on which Alvord can capitalize.
Turnovers are another big part of the Bulldogs’ plan.
Last year, the defense forced 21 turnovers with eight interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries, and Staley would like to see even more.
“We’ve got to do a better job of setting the offense up to score,” Staley said. “With a new offensive coordinator in here early on, we’ve got to help out and really put them in good position to have success.”
The 2014 Bulldogs allowed opponents to score 27.2 points per game, but held teams to just 14.7 points in wins.
Defensive back Jaylon White will lead a group of fresh faces in the secondary.
“He’s our only returner,” Staley said. “He’s got good speed and good range. We’ll need his help more stopping the run, but I don’t have to worry about him in coverage because I know he won’t let anything behind him.”
White will be joined in the defensive backfield by Allen Campbell, whose 2014 season was cut short.
“He broke his wrist on the first play of last season, so he never stepped foot on the field after that opening kickoff against Nocona,” Staley said. “We hope he can come in and help us out this season.”
Jonah Hancock will anchor a defensive line that needs to re-tool after losing Mason Clower and Brett Martin, who combined for seven of Alvord’s 10 sacks in 2014.
“Hancock was an all-district selection for us last year,” Staley said. “He’s got a big body, and he fills the gap well. He doesn’t get moved backwards, and he can draw double teams up front. He’s also tall and has the ability to knock down passes.”
Damon Ledet adds a veteran presence at linebacker.
Ledet was named the Defensive Newcomer of the Year in 2013 as a sophomore and won all-district honors again last season, finishing second on the team with 49 total tackles.