Bulldogs look to take District back in 2019.
HAZARD – August 17, 2019 – JJ Baker – BSN Hazard Football Columnist
Nine months ago Hazard walked off a muddy field in Williamsburg a defeated team. The big rematch with Pikeville would not happen and the Panthers cruised on through the playoffs and was one play away from bring a state title to the mountains. There were, and still are to an extent, many questions that would surround the Bulldogs and what their 2019 campaign may hold. The Bulldogs lost 10 seniors to graduation. That group helped lead the Bulldogs to a 2016 State Runner-up. On offense Hazard lost 2 lineman, a quarterback who had 2,100 yards rushing and passing, a 1,000 yard rusher, and 3 receivers that accounted for over 1,000 yards. Defensively the Bulldogs lost 2 defensive lineman, 2 safeties and corner, and two outside linebackers. Most teams, especially in the mountains, would be reeling from the loss of that much personnel. What has happened at Hazard? Those loses have opened up a level of competition within the team that hasn’t been seen in a while. There are some young, hungry Dogs that are ready to take their place at the table. Will they be ready by the time November rolls around? Time will tell.
The cupboard is far from bare, even with those losses. For most teams the number one position that must be good is the QB. Heir apparent to the position heading into the season was Garrett Miller. The first thing anyone says when seeing Miller for the first time is “Where’d he come from? Miller is a big kid, close to 6’4” with a big time arm to go with the frame. Miller can flat out get the ball down field. G. Miller does have some competition nipping at his heals though in another Miller boy, Nick. Nick Miller who played as a freshman for Hazard, then played QB at Knott County last year, returned to the Bulldog roster this year. He has been taking some reps in practice and put together a nice drive in the Bulldogs opening scrimmage.
Who do these guys have to throw to, though? Hazard isn’t as young in the receiving corps as you’d imagine after losses to graduation. The biggest threat, both figuratively and literally, is senior tight end Mason Collins. The mountain of a tight end was one of the fastest kids on the team during spring conditioning and has already delivered some bone shattering yards after catch in the Bulldog’s scrimmage. Collins will not shy away from contact and could potentially be a huge factor near the goal line. To compliment Collins, you have junior Campbell Davis. Davis has waited his turn and worked hard in the off season to solidify a starting job. Davis has a good burst and has worked hard on his route running and is getting good separation from defenders. The other two receivers saw plenty of playing time last year as freshman. Andrew Ford and Tyson Turner will both be big factors in Hazard’s passing game this season.
Taking the hand offs for the Dogs will be a rotations of old, and possibly new, faces. Trajon Campbell and Reece Fletcher finished with 473 and 387 (respectively) yards rushing last season. Campbell is a shifty back that makes quick moves in the hole and will show a good burst in the open field. Fletcher on the other hand would rather run through the wall than around it. The big running back looks for heavy contact on every play, daring defenders to stay high on him. Elijah Gayheart is the new kid on the block that will be making some noise this year. The freshman got his feet under him in the Leslie County scrimmage and ripped off several big runs. The shifty and fast freshman has a high ceiling and will be turning heads by the end of the season.
None of these guys can do there job without the big guys up front. The line for the Bulldogs has the potential to be really big on the ends and middle, with some quick, hard hitting guards in the middle. Nothing can get started without the snap, and Hazard will have one of, if not the best center in the mountains. Senior Dalton Strong is big, smart, and agile. A track athlete that competed in the shot put, the big center will be a terror for opposing nose guards and be brutal on double teams. Flanked on either side of Strong will be a couple of returning starters in senior Matthew Couch and sophomore Kenton Beverly. Senior Matthew Couch gets every ounce of ability out of his body. He is a quick guard that can get to a linebacker or a trap and end in a hurry and plays every snap like it’s his last. Sophomore Beverly started every game as a freshman and is one of, if not the, hardest worker on the team. There will be a rotation of some new faces at the tackle positions, but there will be some of the biggest kids on the team in that rotation. Sophomore Cameron Caudill has the most varsity experience in the group but will be helped by sophomore Ryan Dean, junior Ian Brashear, and new comer Thomas Massey.
Field goals, kickoffs, and punts will be handled by Nick Combs and Jonah Helm. Combs was invaluable last year pinning offenses deep with some great punts. Helm’s big leg as hopefully matured more giving the Bulldogs even more of a field goal threat. Helm missed a 41 yarder in the scrimmage by just feet, wide left.
Defensively, Hazard will have some bruisers in the middle of the field. End to end and middle linebackers will all bring a load to the table. The guys starting with their hands in the dirt have been impressive so far this preseason. Junior Jacob “Jerry” Fields, senior Timmy Owsley, senior Nate Smith, senior David Cornett, and junior Ian Brashear are going to be the hole pluggers in the middle and will all see plenty of action. Hazard should be able to demand a double team with the big bodies in Fields, Smith, and Brashear at the shade technique. After having to move away for three years, Timmy Owsley is able to return home and finish his senior year as a Bulldog. He and Cornett will use their quickness to control guards and help occupy O-lineman for the linebackers and get a much needed interior pass rush.The end position will have a couple of new faces with Brayden “Hootie” Thomas and a rotation that is similar to the offensive tackle position with Massey, Dean, and Caudill. Thomas is a “will not quit” pass rusher who should make life miserable for opposing QBs. Outside linebackers will also be a competitive rotation featuring Nick Miller, Ryan Davidson, Zane Deaton, Kaleb Eversole, and Keaton Napier. All these guys will have a chance to turn coach’s heads during the season and hopefully the cream will rise to the top in one of the most competitive positions the Bulldogs have. DB’s will include 3 year starter and senior Trajon Campbell, freshman Max Johnson, freshman Hank Pelfrey, sophomore Andrew Ford, junior Jondon Olinger, and sophomore Tyson Turner. This may be the biggest question mark for the Bulldogs. Hopefully this group can sure up their assignments in the next couple of weeks and produce like the coaches think they are capable. The strength of the defense and leaders on that side of the ball will be Fletcher and Collins. The two big men will be one of the best middle linebacker duos in the state and should make running on the Dogs a difficult task.
There is a lot of football to be played between now and November. The Bulldogs haven’t taken on any goals but one this year; Get better every single day. Coach Dixon and staff believe if their team can truly do this, they may be able to make some noise come playoff time. Stay tuned to Bluegrass Sports Nation every week for a preview of the Bulldogs up coming opponent mid-week and a recap of Friday’s game on the weekend.