2017 Bell football preview
By Mike Ridaught
There’s plenty of optimism at Bell heading into the 2017 football season.
Gone are the districts for Classes 1A-4A, which for the Bulldogs included Madison County and Lafayette.
With the FHSAA’s new playoff format, Bell will compete in the nine team 1A-Region 3. Although it includes the Cowboys, Hornets, and Union County, among others, the top four teams in the region will advance to the playoffs based on a points system.
The Bulldogs have experience and a coach who is currently the longest tenured in the Tri-County area.
“We’re going to have 14 seniors on the team this year,” said Joey Whittington, who enters his fifth season as head coach of the Bulldogs. “That’s a really high number for us. Out of those 14, about 11 or 12 of them played last year so that kind of sets the tone.”
They’ve added to the weight room, which has helped the work outs. Since most of the team will be playing both ways, weight training and conditioning have been a focal point.
“You have to get in the weight room because you have to be strong to develop those muscles to take on the hits, but then you have to work on the conditioning because you (offensive line) have to go get it in the fourth quarter,” said Whittington.
Despite the loss of its top two running backs and breaking in new quarterback Johnathan Walls, Whittington is optimistic about the offense.
“We run out of the wing-T and he’s got some athletic ability,” he said. “We just need him to make decisions when we call his number to throw the ball. It’s a good year to learn QB with the offensive line returning.”
The offensive line will be anchored by senior offensive tackle Seth Diepersloot (6-4, 280), who played all positions along the line last season and graded out as the Bulldogs’ best offensive lineman.
“I’m excited,” said senior Ryan Stalvey, who will play center and defensive line. “We have a lot of players returning. I think we’ll do well.”
Diepersloot and Stalvey give the Bulldogs experience and comradery.
“We’re all close,” said Diepersloot. “It helps a lot when we all know each other and how each other plays. I’m looking forward to finishing this senior year with all these kids I’ve grown up with.”
Gainesville Sun All-area honorable mention selections Terek Liles, Sammy Loveday and Zach Simpson will lead the defense. All three are seniors on an otherwise young football team.
Liles (6’3, 190), who will also play offensive guard, had 50 tackles last season at his outside linebacker position, while Loveday (6’4, 205), who had 35 tackles, will be a key contributor on offense at tight end.
The pass defense, led by Simpson (50 tackles), is another team strength, according to Liles.
“I really like our secondary,” he said. “I think we’ll have a good season because we have good players on both sides of the ball.”
For the Bulldogs to have a great season and make the postseason they’ll need to control the line of scrimmage and play smart.
“We need to learn to finish,” said Whittington. “Young teams make young mistakes. Young teams will make unbelievable plays but also make knucklehead plays. We need to maximize the good plays and minimize the knucklehead plays.”
2017 /Bell Football Schedule
Aug. 25 – vs. Maclay (Tallahassee)
Sept. 1 – vs. Eagle’s View (Jacksonville)
Sept. 8 – at Franklin County
Sept. 15 – vs. Hawthorne
Sept. 22 – at Lafayette (Mayo)
Sept.29 – at P.K. Yonge (Gainesville)
Oct. 6 – OFF
Oct. 13 – vs. Trenton (Senior Night)
Oct. 20 – at Branford
Oct. 27 – vs. Bronson (Homecoming)
Nov. 3 – at Wildwood