“We’re just going to come out and try not to give up an inch,” he said.
Many folks might take that to be an idle statement, but judging by the Bulldogs’ first day in pads, Major might be deadly serious.
The Dogs’ ‘D’ didn’t yield much that day. The unit spent most of its time in the offensive backfield, pressuring senior quarterback Cade Bradley and the Piedmont running backs. Even when Bradley had time to pass, his receivers were popped almost immediately by the Piedmont secondary.
“We’re just out here to have fun, win some football games and just dominate,” senior defensive lineman Marquez Gamble said. “That’s all Piedmont wants to do – just win.”
Major is making the switch from defensive back to linebacker this season. Last year, Major posted 98 tackles, including nine for lost yardage. He also had nine pass break-ups and three interceptions.
Major said the key to the Bulldog defense’s success this season is “ we have a lot returning.”
“We’ve got eight seniors on defense this year,” he said. “We’ve got two who have played since ninth grade and one more that’s played since 10th grade, so it should be a good squad.”
Piedmont head coach Steve Smith is inclined to agree.
“That’s probably the strength of our team,” he said. “Marquez Gamble, Exavyer Jackson, Jaylan Johnson and Logan Moore are all returning on our defensive line. We had a five-man rotation last year along with Quadree Woods. Then you’ve got Hayden Downey, who’s provided depth in the past who will factor in the mix there too.
“We’re moving Jamie inside to pair with Collin Bradley, and we feel like we’ll have as good an inside linebacker pair as anybody around. About four or five guys are battling it out for those two outside linebacker spots. Laphonso Burroughs will be coming back at one of the corners, and we’ll have some combination of seven or eight guys competing for the other three secondary spots. We have a lot of guys battling for positions right now, which is what makes it a lot of fun.”
That’s not to say the Bulldog offense doesn’t have its share of playmakers.
Cade Bradley returns at quarterback after seeing spot action at the position last year. He completed 18 of 30 passes for 382 yards and five touchdowns.
Cade Bradley said he’s gone to several passing camps to help him prepare for the upcoming season. He also said having a former quarterback in Smith coaching him up will pay off as well.
“He (Smith) knows what he’s doing,” Cade Bradley said. “If you listen to him, more than likely you’re going to win. I’ve just got to step up and be a leader, perform at my best to help our team win.”
Joining Cade Bradley in the backfield is a rotation of eight running backs, including his brother and fellow senior Collin Bradley, Major, senior Sarandon Dunbar, senior Michael Devoe, juniors Exavyer Jackson and Tre Reese (a transfer from Centre), sophomore Dreek Thompson and freshman Darnell Jackson.
Piedmont receivers include seniors Downey, Cass McCord and Alec Johnson, junior Denard Spears and sophomores Cody Daughtry and CJ Savage.
“They’re a lot of guys who may not be household names to everybody right now, but they were helping us build depth from last year, playing in B-team games,” Smith said. “Cass is a returning starter out there, and Cody started on the defensive side last year. These are some kids I think people are going to be really impressed with the progress they’ve made.”
Piedmont’s offensive line took a hit with three seniors graduating from last season, but does return two starters in seniors Patrick Raney and Austin Bishop.
Smith said eight guys are in the mix battling for the other three spots.
On special teams, Cade Bradley returns at punter and Terry returns as the Bulldog kicker. Collin Bradley and Bishop return as long snappers.
Smith said Savage, Spears, Jackson, Daughtry and Thompson will be used in several different combinations in the Bulldogs’ return game.
Overall, Smith feels “we’re in a great situation.”
“We’ve got 67 on our roster, and probably 35 of those guys are ready to play on Friday nights,” Smith said. “We’re not going to be playing a lot of people both ways. You should see a lot of different faces on the field, both offense and defense. We’ve got three or four guys who will play on just about every special team who will get 15-20 snaps a game that way.”
The Bulldogs compete in Class 3A, Region 5 with Ashville, Cleveland, Glencoe, Saks, Susan Moore, Weaver and White Plains. In addition to those games, the Bulldogs open the season against longtime rival Cherokee County (Aug. 31), have a Thursday night showdown with top-ranked Leeds (Sept. 27), and close out the regular season at Lincoln (Nov. 2).
“I think our schedule is very exciting,” Smith said. “We want to play as challenging a schedule as we can. We want to go out every week and be able to bring our best effort. Hopefully at the end of the game, we’ve got more points on the board than they do.”
Collin Bradley and Bishop know this is their last chance to make something special happen, and both believe it’s possible.
“You can see everybody has a mindset of just winning,” Collin Bradley said. “During the summer, everybody was hitting the weight room hard trying to get stronger and faster. Everybody wants to do good, and that’s going to help us this season.”
Added Bishop: “This is our last shot as seniors to really go all out. If our team plays together, I think we can make it (to state).”