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Zephyrhills seeks elusive playoffs

— After three consecutive winning seasons, sporting a 20-10 record during that time period, it is safe to say the Zephyrhills High football team has regained relevancy in Pasco County.

People have taken notice of this rising program, including at least 22 Division I college coaches that have attended Bulldogs practice thus far, but the goal for Zephyrhills remains the elusive playoff berth.

For the third straight year, in 2013, Zephyrhills controlled its playoff destiny in the season’s final month, only to come up short in the Nine-Mile War against Pasco to seal its postseason doom.

With four out of five starters along the offensive line graduating from the 2013 squad, as well as the top two wide receivers, Bulldogs coach Reggie Roberts knows getting to the playoffs with a less-experienced squad will be challenging.

“With all the younger guys this year, we’re just going to have to teach, teach, teach,” said Roberts, who has gone 23-17 in four seasons at his alma mater, “We don’t have the depth that we need, particularly along the offensive line, and that’s a real concern, but we’re not the first team to be in this position and we need to persevere.”

Losing leading receiver Devon Brockington to graduation has been less painful, said Roberts, due to the athletes that still remain.

Among those returning for Zephyrhills is Jaylen Pickett, who led the Bulldogs in rushing yards (808) and total touchdowns (13) last season. Described as an ideal kid that does everything right in both the classroom and in the community, Pickett has taken on a leadership role in the locker room and has rightfully garnered the attention of college scouts.

“He’s grown so much physically over the past few years and his ability to run the football, to play defense, and to lead, will be crucial to our success. We’re going to count on Jaylen, big time,” Roberts proclaimed.

Replacing Brockington, and Jordan Roberts, on the outside will be a couple of guys that the Bulldogs have a lot of confidence in. Austen Kirby could be the fastest player on the team and Jackie Tucker has attracted a lot of interest from college coaches.

“We’re going to throw the ball a lot more next year and these guys (Kirby and Tucker) are the reason why. They are going to catch a lot of passes,” Roberts quipped, ”They’ve both got good hands and good speed, so we’re going to be good on the outside.”

Zephyrhills Bulldogs

COACH: Reggie Roberts (fifth season, 23-17)

2013 RECORD: 7-3

KEY LOSSES: WR/DB Devon Brockington, WR/DB Jordan Roberts, OL/DL Devon Long, OL/DL Drew Allen, OL/DL, Justin Shaffer, OL/DL Riley Murphy.

KEY RETURNERS: RB/WR/DB Jaylen Pickett, QB/DB Ty Tanner, LB/RB Artonyo Lee, FB/LB Lorine Parker.

SPRING GAME: Thursday at Orlando Oak Ridge, 7 p.m.

SPRING FOCUS: Four starting offensive linemen and leading receiver Brockington are among 14 Bulldogs graduating. As the youngest group Roberts has mentored at his alma mater, spring practice has been teaching and getting reps for the young guys. Coming off three consecutive winning seasons, the Bulldogs have loads of talent at the skill positions – but are very inexperienced along the offensive line.

Kenny Sanders

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Zephyrhills seeks elusive playoffs
Zephyrhills has missed out last three seasons