New-look Bulldogs using underdog status as motivation for the season

2013-2014 BULLDOGS-Team members pictured are Jayar Fraga (21), Tyler Gass (44), Latrone Bowman (11), John Tanner Dodson (5), Taylor Brown (22), Justin Boles (24), Wyatt Mabry (55), Matt Maxfield (1), John Wayne Browning (10), Clay Copass (30), Levi Grace (31), Tyreke Key (23), Dawson Russell (33), Dakota Scott (3), Caye Strong (00), Peyton Smith (4), Austin Hensley (14), and David Cusato (34).  They are joined by head coach Rob Edwards, assistant Doug Strong, and managers Savannah Strode, Tanna Browning, Carly Roach, and Elle Ogletree.  (photo submitted)

2013-2014 BULLDOGS-Team members pictured are Jayar Fraga (21), Tyler Gass (44), Latrone Bowman (11), John Tanner Dodson (5), Taylor Brown (22), Justin Boles (24), Wyatt Mabry (55), Matt Maxfield (1), John Wayne Browning (10), Clay Copass (30), Levi Grace (31), Tyreke Key (23), Dawson Russell (33), Dakota Scott (3), Caye Strong (00), Peyton Smith (4), Austin Hensley (14), and David Cusato (34). They are joined by head coach Rob Edwards, assistant Doug Strong, and managers Savannah Strode, Tanna Browning, Carly Roach, and Elle Ogletree. (photo submitted)

Published in the HORIZON November 20, 2013

By THOMAS P. WEAVER, HORIZON Editor

CELINA-After losing five senior starters to graduation, Clay County Bulldog head basketball coach Rob Edwards has a new-look team this season and explained his squad’s pre-season ranking would serve as motivation for the inexperienced group.

“We are picked to finish last in the District (7-A) this year, but pre-season rankings don’t hurt our feelings,” he said.  “I think this team is fighting for a little respect and using that for motivation moving forward.”

Edwards explained after an offseason of study he has decided to use the strength of his young team to his advantage this year.

“Right now we don’t have that star player or three or four standouts,” he said.  “We’ve got nearly a dozen guys that can play and we are going to use them all.

“I don’t really have a starting five right now–I’ve got two starting fives, plus some.”

Entering his 14th year at the helm of the Bulldogs, Edwards said he was doing things different than any of the previous years he has coached here.

“We’ve got 11 guys that can start on any given night, so why not play them,” he said.  “We are going to get after people this year.

“With that many guys that can play, we can use our depth to play 94 feet for 32 minutes–wide open and it should be fun to watch.”

Edwards does have two senior players, but will rely on a big group of underclassmen this season.

Point guard Jayar Fraga and 6’2” forward Tyler Gass are in their last year of CCHS roundball and both will play big roles for Edwards this season.

“With all the young players, those two guys are our leaders,” the coach said.  “Jayar is our hard-nosed floor leader at the point and I look for Tyler to step up this year, too.

“They both play hard and set good examples for the guys… that’s what we need out of both of them.”

Juniors Taylor Brown, John Tanner Dodson, and Latrone Bowman will also see major time this year.

Brown and Dodson return from last year’s squad, while Bowman is new to the team.

“Taylor is a very versatile player,” Edwards explained.  “He can play post and also get out on the perimeter when he needs to, while John Tanner’s energy is unmatched and he can put up some points too.

“Latrone is a physical player… he can really take it to the hole when he wants to.”

The other half-dozen that will see time this year included five sophomores and a freshman that will make an immediate impact despite his young age.

Size comes into play with the sophomore class as 6’4” Wyatt Mabry and 6’5” Matt Maxfield take the court.

“Wyatt is our inside force especially on the offensive boards and Matt is has a knack for shot-blocking,” Edwards said.  “It’s nice to have that presence under the goal.”

The twin towers’ classmates John Wayne Browning, Clay Copass, and Justin Boles will also see time this season.

“John Wayne and Justin can both shoot and Clay is a good rebounder and a smart kid,” Edwards said.  “Those guys can all play.”

Freshman Tyreke Key has been a pleasant surprise for Edwards and the coach said the young player had unlimited potential.

“He’s smooth, he handles the ball well, he can score, he can shoot, and he’s very coachable,” Edwards said.  “He doesn’t play like a freshman and, right now, I’m excited about the way things are looking with all 11 of these guys.

“No doubt, the inexperience will show up at times and we are humble and hoping for the best heading in, but if things come together, we may be one of those teams you don’t want to play down the road.

“We may be inexperienced, but this team’s got some upside and as long as we get a little bit better every practice and every game, I think we can be competitive and have some success this year.”

Edwards carries a 284-135 career mark into this season and his teams have advanced to the state tournament twice, been to a sub-state game six times, won the region championship three times, and claimed six district titles.  His assistant coach this year is Doug Strong.

Bulldogs at a glance

Last season’s record: 23-6, 1st in District 7-A.  The Bulldogs finished first in the conference’s regular season, finished first in the district tournament, and lost in the Region 4-A semi-finals to Clarkrange.

Projected starting lineup: Any combination of 11 players–Jayar Fraga (Sr.-PG), Tyler Gass (Sr.-F), Latrone Bowman (Jr.-F), John Tanner Dodson (Jr.-G), Taylor Brown (Jr.-F), Justin Boles (Soph.-G), Wyatt Mabry (Soph.-F), Matt Maxfield (Soph.-C), John Wayne Browning (Soph.-G), Clay Copass (Soph.-F), Tyreke Key (Fr.-G).

Keys to season: “We’ve got to gain experience as we go and rely on our depth to wear teams out with our up and down style of play,” Edwards said.  “If we can improve as the season goes, we will be o.k.”

What fans can expect to see: “We are going to be fun to watch because when we get the ball we go with it,” he said.  “We hope to force turnovers with our defensive pressure and score in transition as much as possible.”

Teams to beat in the district: “Pickett County (#1) is returning about everybody and Monterey (#2) has four returning starters and a 6’5” transfer from Cookeville,” Edwards said.  “They both will be good, but like I’ve said before, any team can win on any given night in this district.

“It will be competitive between everybody, just like it always is.”