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BIG, BAD DEFENSE BACK AT BRYAN, WHILE VIKINGS HOPE GROUND GAME, QB BULHOF CAN IMPROVE OFFENSE

Big, bad defense back at Bryan, while Vikings hope ground game, QB Bulhof can improve offense

RICHARD CROOME

The Eagle | 8/29/2019

PHOTO CREDIT: Laura McKenzie

Points came at a premium last season in Bryan football games, both for the opponents and the Vikings.

Statistically, the Vikings had the best defense in District 14-6A and surrendered just 16 points per game. But they also suffered three shutouts and scored 20 or fewer points in seven games overall.

It would be difficult to believe the Vikings can duplicate, both good and bad, those numbers again.

With a secondary in a 4-2-5 defense that returns four starters, Dylan Carroll anchoring the defensive line and Nick McDaniel leading at linebacker, Bryan head coach Ross Rogers sees an opportunity for his defense to again dominate.

“Our defensive front is going to get better and better,” Rogers said. “We’ve got some sophomores, big Tanner Allen up there and Nic Caraway. We are building depth there, so I want to think with our secondary that we are going to be OK.”

Junior Austin Bailey and senior Caleb Merrell start on either side of Carroll, while McDaniel plays alongside Patrick Menjares at middle linebacker and newcomer Jack Blackburn as the second line of defense.

Seniors Xavier Johnson and Christian Richardson return at cornerback along with safeties Kenny Collins and Darius Peterson. Sophomore Du’wayne Paulhill rounds out the secondary that only lost David Parks from last year’s sterling unit.

“Menjares has looked good at middle linebacker and has made the plays, and Kenny ... when you play a Tampa defense, you have to have a safety linebacker who can run through the middle,” Rogers said. “Paulhill will get better and better at safety, and Peterson is a good safety anyway. It’s fun to have a secondary that we had last year, and now back to back we got guys that can really make plays.”

The Vikings’ offensive struggles showed last season. Adding to the rebuilding project on that side of the ball, Bryan lost starting quarterback Kerry Brooks and backup quarterback and top receiver Matt Moreno over the offseason. Brooks transferred to A&M Consolidated, and Moreno graduated.

Rogers is hoping the difference this season is a solid running game powered by a senior-laden line and three strong running backs.

“Our offensive line has got to stay healthy; I like the guys that are up there right now,” Rogers said. “I think we’ve got three good running backs that can hit the hole with a lot of power. They’re strong backs. We just got to give them creases, and [quarterback Nico Bulhof] just has to manage the game.”

Bryan’s offensive line, from left to right, features Colby Fagan, Jacob Bennett, Mark McMath, Jonathan Flores and Justin Sheridan. The five should enjoy a little different philosophy than in the past.

“We are coming off the ball going downhill a lot more,” Rogers said. “Last year we were more zonal blocking, which we still will do some of, but we are trying to go forward, give our backs a crease, wear people’s defenses down with big backs.”

The Vikings also will line up two good-sized receivers in Camden Gray (215 pounds) and Chase Wager (210), both juniors, on the flanks to help block in the running game.

Ja’lijah Tyler will start at tailback. The 5-foot-8, 210-pounder showed his effectiveness between the tackles with a 125-yard game in the season finale against Cypress Woods. Richardson (205 pounds) and Paulhill (185) have proven to be quality backups when coming over from the defensive side.

Bulhof has a couple of games under his belt at the varsity level after directing the JV to a winning record last year.

“Nico’s got the whole package. We’ve just got to get him there,” Rogers said. “He is better on sprint-outs. We haven’t got where we want to be when in pocket or out of the shotgun, so we have to take that into consideration.”

Bulhof’s main targets will be Gary Lynch, all-purpose player Jose Gandara, sophomore Carnellius Lawrence and senior Jalen Davis, who gives the Vikings another option with his speed and running ability on the jet sweep.

An inconsistent kicking game contributed to Bryan’s offensive woes last season. The Vikings punting suffered, and they failed to kick a field goal. Bulhof will help in both disciplines, having kicked more than a handful of field goals on the JV.

“The kicking game killed us last year,” Rogers said. “We lost probably three games with bad punting situations along with not kicking any field goals all year.”

Cypress Ranch knocked Bryan (4-6, 3-5) out of the playoff chase in the penultimate week of the regular season last year. The Mustangs went on to win the eight-team league.

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