The Buford football team will concentrate on finding some answers on the offensive and defensive line this spring. If successful there’s no reason to believe the Wolves can’t make an appearance in the state championship game for the seventh consecutive season.
Buford went 12-3 last year and beat St. Pius 10-3 to win the program’s ninth state championship and its fifth in the last six seasons. The Wolves always aim high and this year is no exception, despite losing the regular contingent of college signees.
“We’ve got a good group of players coming back and we’re off to a good start to our off-season,” said Buford coach Jess Simpson. “The hardest thing is going to be to fill in the leadership role left by our seniors. They were some great role models. But the good news is that these kids to watch it and see how great leadership is modeled.”
It is unlikely Buford will ever experience another similarly tumultuous season. They suffered through the death of a beloved assistant coach and two colleagues. Then there was the unfortunate clerical error that caused the team to forfeit two wins and cost them a region championship.
“Things just kept happening and it was amazing to see the strength of the kids in the program and the strength of the community. It’s so unique,” Simpson said. “To watch them pull together and come together, it’s something I’ll never forget.”
The Wolves will again lean on a defense that held nine of its 15 opponents without a touchdown last year.
The defense will be led by linebacker Korie Rogers (6-2, 200), a four-star recruit that has drawn the interest of most schools in the SEC and ACC, as well as Nebraska, Penn State and West Virginia. Rogers was the AJC’s Class AAA Defensive Player of the Year as a junior.
The issue is on the defensive line, where three talented players graduated and went on to college. End Donte Gordon is the lone holdover on the front. Other returning defensive starters are linebacker Deion King, cornerbacks Terrance Wilson and Thomas Wilson, and free safety Tre Neal.
“I’m most concerned with our defensive line,” Simpson said. “We were able to make a lot of plays because of our play up front.”
The same issue exists to some degree on the offensive line. The left side returns intact with tackle Hunter Holland and guard Nick Polino and the dependable Nick Lulkowski is back at center. Harrison Morgan backed up UGA-signee Josh Cardiello a year ago, but is expected to move into the lineup; Morgan is considered a D-I prospect.
“We have to develop some good offensive linemen,” Simpson said. “It’s key that the offensive line comes together.”
The backfield is in great shape with co-quarterbacks Taylor Mitchell and Montgomery VanGorder, who shared the duties a year ago. A deep corp of backs includes fullbacks Donte Gordon, Joshua Thomas and David Curry and running backs Zavior Hoxie, Thomas Wilson and Xavier Gantt. Neal is a solid at one wideout, but the Wolves are in need of help there.
“I like our skill positions,” Simpson said.
2012 record: 12-3, 5-2 (two losses by forfeit) in Region 7-AAA, beat St. Pius in Class AAA championship game.
Starters returning: 6 on offense, 6 on defense
Key players lost: OL-DL Josh Cardiello (Georgia), TE-DL Mikey Bart (North Carolina), RB Dontravious Wilson (Central Florida)
Key players returning: LB Korie Rogers, DB Thomas Wilson, FB-LB Joshua Thomas, OL Harrison Morgan, RB Zavior Hoxie
Spring practice dates: May 6-17; spring scrimmage on May 17 at 4 p.m.
Schedule: Aug. 30 Elbert County; Sept. 6 at Gainesville; Sept. 13 at Hancock Central; Sept. 27 Banks County; Oct. 4 at West Hall; Oct. 11 White County; Oct. 18 at Dawson County; Oct. 25 at Fannin County; Nov. 1 East Hall; Nov. 8 at North Hall
Outlook: The Wolves need to find some answers on the offensive and defensive line. Otherwise they’re loaded again and should contend for another state championship.
Follow @ajcprepsports on Twitter.