Pike County coach Fred Holland knows firsthand the challenges of being a Bulldog football player.
He was a standout during his prep days and is in his ninth season as the leader of a proud program that has been built on mental and physical toughness throughout the years.
Holland doesn’t sugar coat it to his players.
“I try to stress the importance of you win when nobody’s (fans) there,” Holland said. “Our kids understand that, even though it’s tough at Pike County because you’re asked to do so many things.
“We thrive by pushing our kids and showing them it’s not for punishment, it’s for wins. It’s been like that for a long time and our players understand it.”
Pike County, a school which has won five state titles since 1989, is coming off another stellar season that included an 8-2 regular season record, a region championship and making it to the third round of the playoffs.
The expectations remain high as the Bulldogs are ranked No. 5 in the Class 3A preseason poll by the Alabama Sports Writers Association and return some talented starters on both sides of the football.
Holland lets his players know in a hurry they will be pushed.
“I told them my expectations are way beyond whatever you’ll ever think of, so don’t think it as punishment or we have something against you,” Holland said. “We’re just trying to maximize your potential.
“I’m in constant evaluation mode. We’ve got some guys who have decreased some – kind of living in the past because of some of their success last year. I try to tell them, ‘We’re in a really good region, so we won’t surprise anyone. Everybody will be ready for you, so let last year be last year and focus on the upcoming year.’”
The Bulldogs return an offensive standout in senior Rayshawn Reynolds at running back, an all-state performer a year ago. He compiled a Wiregrass-best 2,217 rushing yards (170.5 avg. game, 8.6 per carry) with 19 touchdowns and seven receptions for 138 yards and three scores. Other key players in the backfield include Hornando Wheeler at fullback and Darrick Myhand at running back.
Who will get them the football at quarterback was a question mark going into preseason drills.
Junior DeQauvius Coleman, however, may be the leader to win the job.
“Coleman played on our junior varsity team and played a little bit for the varsity,” Holland said.
The line should be strong anchored by Isiah Wheeler and Germaine Foster.
“He’s been in our program for three years and one thing I really like about him is you don’t have to tell him anything,” Holland said of Isiah Wheeler. “Once you give him a task to do, whether it’s on offense, defense or special teams, he does it with a great attitude. It’s always, ‘What else do I need to do, coach?’ I can’t say enough about his hard work.”
Both of the Wheelers are leaders on the defensive side.
Hornando Wheeler, a junior linebacker, was a Dothan Eagle Super 12 selection last year after making 180 tackles, which included 16 for loss and five quarterback sacks. Isiah Wheeler is a senior defensive end who is a playmaker.
“We lost nine seniors last year and all of those guys were starters, so we’re trying to replace those guys and looking for leadership,” Holland said. “This summer had been pretty good, especially with Isiah and Hornando leading the way. Hornando was our leading tackler last year. Both of them are very quiet guys, but they lead by example.”
Other returning starters on defense are Myhand at tackle, Foster at linebacker and Reynolds at cornerback.
“We’ve just got a lot of positions to fill,” Holland said. “We’ve got some young guys coming along. Even some of those guys who will be seniors we’re counting on – they didn’t play a lot last year. I think some of them will learn on the job.”
Myhand is expected to handle the punting and kickoff duties with Foster kicking extra points.
Holland said the preseason work has been encouraging.
“I learned a little bit more about their commitment,” Holland said. “They’ve been in the weight room and in conditioning, but I learned a lot about them as far as their commitment and leadership. Our spring was very important.
“Our summers are very tough because of conditioning. That’s something we stress a lot to them because our guys are two-way players. That’s something we’ve done for years.
“Sometimes we have players coming up from junior high transitioning into varsity and they have a difficult time with it. Once they buy into it, they understand.”
BULLDOGS AT A GLANCE
>> Head coach: Fred Holland (9th year at Pike County and as a head coach, 54-30)
>> 2018 record: 10-3 overall, 7-0 in Class 3A, Region 3, Class 3A state quarterfinals
>> 2018 results: Alabama Christian (L, 0-16); at Houston Academy # (W, 39-7); at Geneva # (W, 27-22); Wicksburg # (W, 33-29); Abbeville (W, 20-14); Providence Christian # (W, 25-14); at Slocomb # (W, 32-10); at Opp # (W, 51-6); Straughn # (W, 42-7); at Sweet Water (L, 6-40). STATE PLAYOFFS: Oakman (W, 21-8); at Thomasville (W, 21-14); Flomaton (L, 10-12)
>> Points scored/per game: 327/32.7
>> Points allowed/per game: 199/19.9
>> Returning offensive starters (4): RB Rayshawn Reynolds (Sr., 5-9, 210); Isiah Wheeler (Sr., 6-1, 195); OG Germaine Foster (Sr., 5-11, 190); FB Hornado Wheeler (Jr., 5-9, 190)
>> Returning defensive starters (4): DT Darrick Myhand (Sr., 5-9, 195); DE Isiah Wheeler (Sr., 6-1, 195); OLB Germaine Foster (Sr., 5-11, 190); LB Horando Wheeler (Jr., 5-9, 190); CB Rayshawn Reynolds (Sr., 5-9, 210).
Aug. 30 at Alabama Christian
Sept. 6 Houston Academy #
Sept. 13 Geneva #
Sept. 20 at Wicksburg #
Sept. 27 at Abbeville
Oct. 4 at Providence Christian #
Oct. 11 Slocomb #
Oct. 18 Opp #
Oct. 25 at Straughn #
Nov. 1 Sweet Water
# Denotes region contest