By Marty Pallman
Twitter – @mpallman
The 2019 season was a tale of two seasons for the Bradford (Starke) Tornadoes and head coach Brian Tomlinson.
The first half saw a 1-4 start with four straight losses to playoff teams Baldwin, Pierce County (GA), West Nassau (Callahan), and University Christian (Jacksonville) by a combined 22 points.
But then Bradford caught fire, winning three of their next four games, with the only loss by two points at another playoff team, South Sumter (Bushnell).
Despite a 4-5 regular season record, the Tornadoes qualified for the 4A playoffs, and had to go on the road. After a 21-0 shutout at Gadsden County (Havana) in the opening round, Bradford got its revenge against West Nassau in the Region 1-4A semifinal with a 45-13 romp in Callahan.
The Tornadoes then played eventual 4A state runner-up Bolles (Jacksonville) to the wire in the region final the following week, before coming up a bit short 16-6.
The playoff run last season comes on the heels of Bradford advancing to the 4A state semifinals in 2017.
Tomlinson is building a consistent winner in Starke and enters his fourth season as head coach of the Tornadoes with three consecutive playoff appearances.
There will be some changes for Bradford in 2020.
The Tornadoes do return six starters on offense but only four on defense.
Tomlinson says there will be some major battles going into fall camp.
“Losing four starters on the defensive line is going to create a challenge to find their replacements,” he said.
Among those losses are graduated defensive end Ahmon Jefferson, who led Bradford with 125 tackles, including 31 tackles for loss and 15 and a half sacks in 2019, and Gavin Woods from both lines of scrimmage.
Tomlinson hopes the younger guys can step up on the line, although his defensive secondary will be experienced.
Junior free safety A’dontae Balfour, who led Bradford with seven interceptions and added 52 tackles in 2019, returns along with senior safety Sterling Roberts, who had 74 tackles a season ago, and another senior defensive back in Travis Lee.
On the offensive side of the ball, Bradford returns its quarterback and top rusher from last season.
Senior Pedro Carter threw for 851 yards and nine touchdowns and was the third leading rusher in 2019 with 502 yards on 96 carries and five scores.
Last year’s leading rusher senior Erric Smith returns after a 2019 season where he ran for 1,012 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.
Bradford did lose its second leading rusher from last season, Brian Foster, who rushed for 515 yards a year ago.
The Bradford offensive line is shored up by senior Levontre Daniels and senior tight end Austin Lovell. Lovell caught 11 passes for 219 yards and five TD’s as a junior in 2019.
Balfour also lines up at wide receiver, where he led the Tornadoes in receiving with 17 catches for 312 yards and five scores a year ago.
Tomlinson sees a lot of talent coming back to Bradford in 2020. But a lot of that talent is young.
“We are going to be very young this year,” Tomlinson said. “We have a very talented group of seniors but there aren’t very many. Our young are also talented, but they lack experience.”
The schedule is challenging again as Bradford will open up at rival Baker County (Glen St. Mary), then host back-to-back games against two playoff teams from a year ago in Baldwin and Keystone Heights. Then road games at University Christian (Jacksonville) and Suwannee (Live Oak), followed by a home game as powerhouse Cardinal Gibbons (Fort Lauderdale) comes to Starke.
The back part of the slate is little more manageable with three straight home games but there are still tough games against South Sumter (Bushnell) and Fort White the last two weeks.
If Bradford can get their young players set early in the season, especially on their offensive and defensive lines, a fourth straight playoff appearance under Coach Tomlinson should be in order.
School: Bradford High School
2019 Record: 6-6 (advanced to third round of 4A playoffs)
Coach & year: Brian Tomlinson (4th year, 22-14 overall)
Number of returning offensive/defensive starters: offense-6/defense-4
Key losses: Nedro Davis, Malik Hankerson, Ahmon Jefferson, Gavin Woods
Key returning players (Name, position, year): Erric Smith-RB/SR, Sterling Roberts-DB/SR, Austin Lovell-TE/SR, Levontre Daniels-OL/SR, A’dontae Balfour-WR-DB/SR, Pedro Carter-QB/SR, Travis Lee-DB/SR
Key newcomers (Name, position, year): Could have several Freshmen and Sophomores step up as major contributors for this team.
Most important position battles heading into the fall: Losing 4 starters on the defensive line is going to create a challenge to find their replacements.
Outlook/expectations: We are going to be very young this year. We have a very talented group of seniors but there aren’t very many. Our young guys are also talented, but they lack experience.
2020 Football Schedule
8/14 at Newberry (Kickoff Classic)
8/21 at Baker County (Glen St. Mary)
8/28 vs. Baldwin
9/4 vs. Keystone Heights
9/11 at University Christian (Jacksonville)
9/18 at Suwannee (Live Oak)
9/25 vs. Cardinal Gibbons (Fort Lauderdale)
10/9 at P.K Yonge (Gainesville)
10/16 vs. Palatka
10/23 vs. South Sumter (Bushnell)
10/30 vs. Fort White
Region 1-4A (top six teams make playoffs)
Bay (Panama City)
Gadsden County (Havana)
North Bay Haven Academy (Panama City)
Rutherford (Panama City)
Santa Fe (Alachua)
South Walton (Santa Rosa Beach)
West Nassau (Callahan)