BAKER — Matt Brunson enters his fourth spring as Baker School's football coach with high expectations.
Baker won the District 1-1A title and was undefeated in the regular season before losing in the first round of the playoffs.
"Last year, we were very fortunate to win the district, but we exited out of the playoffs a little earlier than we would like to," he said. "We've had a great off-season. This year, our goal is to get in and make a run in the playoffs."
The good news for Brunson is rising junior quarterback Jon Beck returns with a season-and-a-half of starting experience.
"Jon knows what we are trying to accomplish and knows how to manage the game," Brunson said. "We are looking for him to have a great year.
"He did a great job last year and threw for a little over 1,000 yards. He's had some great years and we are looking for two more great ones."
'Tailback by committee'
The Gators' biggest hole that needs filling is at tailback, where D.J. Thomas rushed more than 2,000 yards and scored 30 touchdowns.
Brunson feels comfortable replacing his workhorse with a stable of quality runners, going so far as to say the Gators are loaded at the position.
"We've got some guys coming that are going to be very good football players that had a great off-season and are at great strength levels," Brunson said. "It's going to be tailback by committee early and then as those guys earn their spurs and work everything out."
But some names do come to mind for the position.
"I think we have a great one in Austin Martin," he said. "I think we have a great one coming in Austin Davis. Montae Barto is a fullback and he could work some tailback duty. Tyler Oliver is another fullback type."
Brunson expects no major changes to the Gator offense, no matter who plays tailback.
"We are going to build around what we do best," he said. "We will identify players that will compete this spring and keep moving forward."
Brunson said four or five guys will work at receiver, and he likes what he has seen from Jacob Nixon, Josh Long, David Oglesby, Jack Wilkinson and Josh Mayhew.
The coach also is comfortable with the offensive line, even with the losses of starting offensive linemen Dakota Campbell, Jake Rainey and Kodi Nixon to graduation.
"We are going to be fine on the offensive line," he said. "Those guys have done a great job of improving their strength levels and we are going to be strong and physical. If they work hard on their pad level, we will be just fine."
Time to step up
Brunson's biggest concerns are on the defensive side, where Baker lost the four starting defensive linemen.
"Defensively, we've got to have some guys up front step up," Brunson said. Strength wise we've got some guys (that should be able to play). They've got some big shoes to fill because, up front defensively, we were pretty good."
The Gators will try to work faster on offense, and that will be an ongoing process to speed things up through the summer.
For the most part, spring football will be back to basics, just as it is each spring.
"We always are going to work on basics," he said. "We are going to work on pad level, punch and feet after contact; we are going to tackle — and those are the two biggest things.
"But at the same time, we are going to try to pick up the pace of everything we do. We are going to build on the foundation we've got. We are going to run the football and be physical, but we are going to try and do it a little faster."
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at email@example.com, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.