They were Class 3A state champions in 2009, region champions in each of the last three years and earned 10-0 regular season records in 2011 and 2012 but the past does not guarantee the future.
Graduation took a heavy toll in numbers – 23 seniors dotted the 2012 roster – and in experience as many of those graduates were multi-year starters at one or more positions. The 2013 Piedmont roster is one of the smallest in numbers since Smith’s arrival.
With lots of talk that this could be a down year for the Bulldogs, and Thursday’s jamboree game against visiting Jacksonville just around the corner, it seemed to one reporter that this week might be a good time to ask Smith for his prognosis on the coming season.
“The experts say it’s not supposed to be very good,” Smith replied when the question was put to him.
Reminded that the question was what he thought and not what he had heard the “experts” were thinking, and pressed for an answer, Smith responded simply.
“I’m not an expert.”
Reading between the lines, one gets the distinct impression that Smith believes this year’s Bulldogs could develop into a team to be reckoned with. The question is how much time will be required for that development to take place.
There are proven players at running back and receiver on offense but the offensive line has more new faces – three – than returning starters. Who will start at quarterback has been a three-way battle between senior transfer Ty Sparks, junior Tyler Lusk and freshman Taylor Hayes with Smith saying positive things about each of the three.
On defense, the secondary is talented and experienced but the linebackers and defensive linemen are largely inexperienced.
Friday’s intra-squad scrimmage drew a sizeable crowd, perhaps because to the questions surrounding the team. First Sparks and then Lusk got 20 snaps with the offense. Hayes, who at this point seems to be more valuable at inside linebacker, had about a dozen snaps as did sophomore Bayley Blanchard.
The offensive line worked returning starters Caleb Adams at center and Jeffery Pryor at right tackle with left tackle Dustin Norton, right guard Jamie Crutcher and left guard Chase Bobbitt for the first 40 snaps then Taylor Cooper went to left guard. Other reserves on the offensive line included center Easton Kirk, left tackle Jaden Amberson, right guard Justin Jacobs and right tackle Will Bedwell.
On the defensive line, Piedmont worked four players at three positions. Veteran Exavyer Jackson began at nose tackle but also spent time at end. Junior Tyler Lucas also worked at nose and end. Ryan Kirk played nose solely and Tre Reese end only. Smith said that level of versatility should keep all four players rested but having a fifth defensive lineman emerge during the season would be helpful.
At linebacker, Hayes, Neonta Alexander, Jaret Prater, Dalton Barber, Chase Keener and junior transfer Jacob Clark all saw plenty of action in the scrimmage.
“We feel like we’ve got six guys that can play the four linebacker positions in our defense,” Smith said. “Obviously, all six of them can’t start but starter or not we’re going to play about six guys in that rotation.”
Thursday’s jamboree with Jacksonville in Piedmont will begin at 7 p.m. Piedmont opens its 2013 regular-season slate in Centre against Cherokee County on August 30.