ST PAULS — Bulldog head football coach Trey Sasser has been coaching longer than any of his peers at Three Rivers Conference schools.
This year’s St. Pauls squad will feature some veteran players. But it will also feature some underclassmen.
Asked about the type of season to expect, Sasser doesn’t hesitate. He expects each year, even if young guys have to step up, to compete for the conference title.
And the team that he has now?
“We can be very competitive,” the coach says.
The Bulldogs will present a spread fast-paced offensive. The will play up-tempo, but for Sasser’s team that means a balance of the air and ground games.
While they like to run out of the gate, the coach says his team is “not afraid to pass from anywhere on the field.”
That passing will be done by senior quarterback Cody McKenna.
During Three Rivers Conference media day in early August, Sasser said McKenna knows his offensive system extremely well.
“Our quarterback can finish my sentences and knows what I’m going to call,” the coach said.
One of those frequent play calls may involve giving the ball to senior running back Trey Thompson, who has stepped up at his position, the coach says.
Or McKenna could throw to one of his six-foot-two-inch receiving targets, senior Tim Billinger or junior Michael Barnes. Barnes joins the varsity squad this year after getting experience as a standout with the jayvee team in 2014.
Sasser says his offense is a deep team with many skilled positions showing great speed, though not all squad members have played a lot. He likes much of what he sees from them.
“But I don’t know how they’re going to perform when the lights go on,” the coach says.
One of the youngest components of the Bulldog offense is the line, which has no senior starters. Still, they’ve worked together through the summer and the coach believes they are gelling. Knowing what the guy next to you is going to do will be essential to success, he says.
The defensive line is a different story for St. Pauls. Set up in a 3-4 system, senior defensive tackle Lucas Terry and junior defensive end Dayshawn Ray are returning starters who will look for ways to attack the ball.
Sasser is also confident in his linebacker squad and secondary. The key will be playing defense with intensity and enthusiasm, he says.
“They’re not the biggest team, but we have to fly to the ball,” he explains. Not content to play passive defense, Sasser’s squad will “use a variety of blitz packages.”
The coach says he has been concerned by some mental mistakes he’s seen.
“You can’t win by repeatedly making mental errors,” he said. The secret to overcoming those, he believes, is repetition.
Sasser says if you put in 10 things, then dial them back to five, going over just those five things repeatedly until the team gets those five things, you can then go back and dial things back to 10.
Among the mental mistakes that trouble him the most are errors in ball handling. “Don’t let fumbles go unnoticed” even in practice, he says.
Special teams has also received ample attention from St. Pauls this summer, with some aspect being practiced each day.
McKenna will handle Bulldog punting duties.
An earlier question mark opened up at place-kicking when the anticipated kicker moved out of state, Sasser says. A St. Pauls soccer player, senior Gustavo Rosas, will take over those duties.
Reach Sports Editor Frank Taylor at 910-816-1977 or email him at [email protected]