After consecutive 6-5 seasons, including one that ended with a home playoff game last season, Geneva County head coach Jim Bob Striplin says the Bulldogs are not finished.
“We’ve seen some improvement, we’re knocking on the door,” Striplin said. “Hosting a playoff game was big for us. We weren’t quite ready to make that next step.”
What he likes about this team, which returns seven starters on offense and six on defense, is enough talent and an attitude he believes can take the next step in 2019.
Striplin recalled the Bulldogs participating in a 7-on-7 last month.
“I told our guys, ‘It’s all on your shoulders. What do you want to do with this team? I played here before, now it’s your team. How far do you want to take this?’” Striplin said. “That’s the fun thing about coaching, seeing them take ownership.”
The coach is in his fourth season at his alma mater after six seasons at New Brockton. Geneva County has some standout talent at more than one position.
The Bulldogs have one of the area’s most electric running backs in sophomore Emmanuel Henderson (5-11, 175). They have an outstanding senior defensive end and fullback in senior Trey Williams (6-3, 215). Colby Fuller (6-5, 185), a junior wide receiver, is going to be a matchup nightmare. And last year’s starting quarterback, senior Cole Saunders (5-10, 170) is back to distribute the football.
What Striplin is most excited about, however, is the return of three starters on the offensive line. Senior Kevin Castro (5-10, 290) and junior Jaxon Hess (5-10, 300) will likely be the tackles. Sam Gooden, a 5-10, 225-pound sophomore, probably will play a guard spot.
“That’s really always a question mark for us at Geneva County,” Striplin said. “We’ve been playing football for 103 years. We’ve historically had some great skill players but the big guys are kind of hard to come by. We’ve got some big guys this year. If we can stay healthy I think we can find some success.”
The two newcomers up front could be crucial. Junior Sam Parker (5-10, 225) has a lot of potential at center, but needs to develop more consistency, Striplin said. Bryant Davis (6-0, 205), a senior, did not start but got some experience on the line last season. He will likely play at the other guard spot.
“If those two guys come through and we’ve got couple others competing, if we find five consistent guys that duo in the backfield will be more dynamic,” Striplin said.
The backfield is potent and Henderson is a weapon defenses will have to game plan for.
“He’s an explosive kid. He can dunk a basketball with no problem. Now, at 5-11 that’s not very tall for basketball, but in football that’s just where we want him,” the coach said. “We’ve got to find ways to get him the ball. He’s got great hands. I haven’t had a back like this in a long time. I’m excited to see what he can do.”
Williams will be a great complement at fullback, Striplin said.
“Trey’s really developed physically the last couple years. He’s always been a tall kid, but he’s really filled out. Two years ago he was probably 6-foot, 180. Him and Emmanuel are going to be a good tandem.”
Saunders is a senior quarterback who started last season.
“Cole knows our system, knows to expect from me as a coach,” Striplin said. “He’s getting to the point where he’s kind of reading my mind a little bit – which is what you hope to have in a senior quarterback. We’re going to be able to do some stuff this year.”
To keep defenses honest, Fuller is a deep threat and is 6-foot-5.
“Great hands, really aggressive,” the coach said. “He’s really a dynamic kid – our best jumper, can stretch the field for us. You have to honor that. We’ll throw it deep on any down.”
Jackson Stewart, a sophomore, projects at tight end. Keaton Enfinger, a senior, could be the other wide receiver. Both Stewart and Enfinger are sons of former outstanding Geneva County athletes, Striplin said.
A key addition to the defense is new coordinator Micah Turner, who led the Northview defense. Turner will also be the Bulldogs’ baseball coach.
“The kids have really responded well to him,” Striplin said. “We were able to install his defense this spring.”
Williams, at defensive end, and Castro, at defensive tackle, could be the strength of the unit, the head coach said.
“I’ve got a couple new guys at linebacker, they’ve got some experience but I like what I saw this spring with Cole Dean, a senior, tall (6-3, 185), lean kid, got a good eye for the football,” Striplin said. “He’ll be a first-year starter at linebacker. He’s got a nose for the ball and a little mean streak. Will Birdsong will be the other inside linebacker.”
Senior Jadyn Alston will start for the third consecutive year at cornerback for the Bulldogs.
“Lot of experience, great speed. He’s one of our best track guys,” Striplin said.
The sophomore tight end, Stewart, is a returning starter at free safety.
Freshman Brandon Andrews will be a defensive end on the other side from Williams. Gooden will be the other defensive tackle.
Freshman Kenli Preyer and offensive lineman Davis could be the outside linebackers. Preyer may be Geneva County’s fastest player, Striplin said, and could play some on offense.
Jefferson Ayala, a senior kicker, doesn’t have great range, but he’s very accurate.
The Bulldogs play in Class 2A, Region 2 with traditional powers like Ariton, Abbeville, Cottonwood and Daleville, Striplin said.
“We’ve got to continue to improve on the defensive end. We’ll score some points, but we’ve got to be able to get a stop. … And we’ve got to get the offensive line to gel,” he said. “If that group can gel and stay healthy, that’s where our success is going to come from.”
BULLDOGS AT A GLANCE
>> Head coach: Jim Bob Striplin (4th year at Geneva County, 16-16; 10th season as a head coach, 47-49)
>> 2018 record: 6-5 overall, 5-2 in Class 2A, Region 2, first round of Class 2A state playoffs
>> 2018 results: at Samson (W, 41-33); Geneva (L, 22-47); at Ariton # (W, 36-29); Abbeville # (L, 7-32); at Barbour County # (W, 42-0); G.W. Long # (W, 31-0); at Cottonwood # (W, 40-7); Daleville # (L, 20-50); Houston County # (W, 55-42); at Slocomb (L, 7-43). STATE PLAYOFFS: LaFayette (L, 0-40)
>> Points scored/per game: 301/27.4
>> Points allowed/per game: 323/29.4
>> Returning offensive starters (7): QB Cole Saunders (Sr., 5-10, 170); RB Emmanuel Henderson (So., 5-11, 175); FB Trey Williams (Sr., 6-3, 215); WR Colby Fuller (Jr., 6-5, 185); OT Kevin Castro (Sr., 5-10, 290); OT Jaxon Hess (Jr., 5-10, 300); OG Sam Gooden (So., 5-10, 225)
>> Returning defensive starters (6): DE Trey Williams (Sr., 6-3, 215); DT Kevin Castro (Sr., 5-10, 290); LB Cole Dean (Sr., 6-3, 185); LB Will Birdsong (Jr., 5-10. 165); CB Jadyn Alston (Sr., 6-1, 170); FS Jackson Stewart (So., 6-0, 165)
Aug. 23 Samson
Aug. 29 (Thu) at Geneva
Sept. 6 Ariton #
Sept. 13 at Abbeville #
Sept. 20 Barbour County #
Sept. 27 Off
Oct. 4 at G.W. Long #
Oct. 11 Cottonwood #
Oct. 18 at Daleville #
Oct. 25 at Houston County #
Oct. 31 (Thu) Slocomb
# Denotes region games