It’s funny sometimes how much more fun past experiences seem now with the advantage of looking at them through the rear view mirror. Case in point? The bye week where Princeton High School’s football team installed a completely new offense last season, moving from a spread attack to the timing-based Wing-T.
“Oh, that was a fun week,” genuflected second-year Bulldogs coach Travis Gaster on that experience as preseason practices opened for the Bulldogs.
It was also a week that turned around the fortunes of Princeton’s 2015 season and started the bridge of transition from the Johnny Frasier era — the former five-star running back now at N.C. State — to a new chapter of winning Bulldog football.
Princeton won four of its last five regular-season games after the transition and played well for much of its first-round playoff loss to Camden County.
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Can the offense be even better in 2016?
In a word, yes. For 2016, the Bulldogs return seven starters of that offensive unit which averaged five touchdowns a game in its last three victories.
Four of those starters are on the offensive line and the other three — quarterback Adam Crocker, fullback Earl Gibson and wing back Matthew Stallworth — occupy key spots in the ball-handling positions.
“We were installing offensive plays at this point last summer,” Gaster said. “This year, we got all of our plays in during the spring practice session. Our focus now shifts to getting things fundamentally down — your steps, hand placement, movements.”
What has Gaster excited about his squad?
Princeton is working to two-platoon on offense and defense this season and the key to that is having enough linemen on both sides of the ball. The Bulldogs have that going for them.
Darius Avery and Ryan Tew (moving over from the offensive line) should lead the defensive line group.
“Our offensive and defensive lines are having great competition every day with each other,” Gaster said. “One bunch can win one day, the other bunch wins another day. That’s going to make all of them better and us better as a football team.”
Ideally, the veteran offensive line will allow Princeton to control the flow of games by creating long drives on offense, thus shortening the game and keeping what will be an inexperienced back seven on defense off of the field early as much as possible. Linebacker A.J. Webb is the only returning starter in that defensive group.
What’s the key to earning a home playoff date?
With only conference champions now guaranteed a playoff spot, the only clear route to a home playoff game is winning that title. But in the 1A ranks, realistically it’s getting to a six- or seven-win mark. Where does that start? Winning in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Princeton needs to do that this year.
Key as well, holding onto the ball.
“When you look at our young defense, we have to have our kids hold onto the ball on offense,” Gaster said. “Turnovers will be hard to overcome for us.”
More on the Bulldogs
Last year: 4-7 (4-2 Carolina 1A), first round 1AA playoffs
Five-year average: 7-6, 4-3
Preseason N&O rank: Unranked
Coaches: Travis Gaster (Head coach, linebackers), Don Andrews (Defensive backs), Scottie Pearce (Defensive line), Trevor Pilkington (Offensive coordinator, offensive line), Thomas Pilkington (Quarterbacks), Justin Willoughby (Wing backs)
Contributors: Darius Avery (Sr., DE), Kevin Barbour (Sr., OT), Luke Braswell (Sr., OT), Adam Crocker (Sr., QB), Earl Gibson (Sr., FB), Jordan Stallworth (Jr., OL), Matthew Stallworth (Sr., WB), A.J. Webb (Sr., LB), LeShane White (Sr., OG)
The main number: .800 — Princeton’s winning percentage for the final five games of the 2015 season after it made the move to a Wing-T offensive system.
Aug. 19 Kestrel Heights, 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 at Midway, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 2 at Franklinton, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 9 North Johnston, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 at Union, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23* James Kenan, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 BYE
Oct. 7* at Hobbton, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14* Spring Creek, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21* at North Duplin, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28* Lakewood, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4* at Rosewood, 7 p.m.
Note: * denotes conference games; # Thursday games