By: J. Daniel Pearson
Prior to the opening of fall training camp, St. Cloud head coach Michael Short publicly said he was entering the season with “quiet optimism.” But when you talk in depth to the second year coach, his “quiet optimism” really sounds a lot more like confidence as he looks to improve on last year’s 7-3 record.
“It’s kind of hard not to be excited about the coming year. We return a lot of starters on both sides of the ball. They had a solid season last year and they are all a year older, a year stronger and a year more experienced,” Short said. “I absolutely believe we have a chance to be a pretty good football team.”
That optimism starts on offense, where the Bulldogs return a veteran offensive line, a three-year starter at quarterback, and both their top returning receiver and rusher.
Junior Logan King returns at quarterback after throwing for 1900 yards and 18 touchdowns a year ago. Short says King assumed leadership of the offense a year ago and has the ability to be one of the top quarterbacks in the area. “He throws and incredible deep ball, definitely as good as any player I have coached in the past,” Short said. “He did a pretty good job at taking care of the ball (just seven interceptions) and has a really good grasp of what we are trying to do offensively.”
Two-way star TJ Griffin (WR/DB, 5-8, Junior) split time at running back as a sophomore but led the team in rushing (496 yards), yards per carry (6.5) and rushing touchdowns (9). He can catch the ball out of the backfield and might be used on kick returns this season. “He’s simply electric with the ball in his hands and just keeps getting better and better,” Short said. “I tend to ride him pretty hard and he used to resent that but he now understands why. When I give him hard time it’s because I know he can be great and I want him to realize that.”
King’s favorite target is Owen Conner, who almost eclipsed the 1000 yard mark in receiving a year ago (43-854-6 TD). Short says finding a complimentary receiver to play on the other side of Conner would be a concern in training camp. “We have some solid candidates, just waiting for someone to step up and take the job,” Short said.
The offensive line will be strength of the Bulldog offense this year. Division-1 prospect Conner Howes (OT, 6-6, 300) anchors a line that includes Daniel Torres (Center), Shawn Eplin (G), and transfer Omar Perez.
St. Cloud suffered the majority of their graduation losses on the defensive line and linebacker, but Shorts says the Bulldogs have a lot of talent to replace those losses. The Bulldogs will switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 this season and believe Jayden Woods, Rylan Taromino, and Kareem Eglin will give them a solid defensive front.
Junior Landon Millman moves to inside linebacker from the outside. As a sophomore, he piled up 37 tackles, including six for loss. Short is so high on him, he says Millman will wear the #2 jersey – an honor reserved for St. Cloud ‘s defensive leader.
St. Cloud returns its entire starting secondary, including Tyler Green, Griffin, Bryce Williamson and Malcom Senono. Tashard Smith, who is playing his first year of football, has shown tremendous potential as a defensive back. “We’re pretty stacked back there,” Short said. “TJ is so solid, most teams won’t even challenge him and that makes it easier on the rest of the defense.”
Two years ago, then head coach and current Athletics Director Bryan Smart talked about how St. Cloud has good front line players but depth was a major concern as they could not overcome significant injuries. That has changed the last couple of years under Short, who had 75+ players in when training camp opened. “We had something like 28 freshmen come out this year and a lot of those guys are really good athletes – especially on defense,” Short said. “If I have to move some players from defense to offense, I’ll be able to do that and I really believe we have some freshmen that can play if we need them.”
Kickoff Classic (Exhibition)
- Aug. 18 Haines City 7:30 p.m.
- Aug. 25 at Barron Collier 7 p.m.
- Sept. 1 Pine Ridge 7:30 p.m.
- Sept. 8 Liberty 7:30 p.m.
- Sept. 15 Tohopekaliga 7:30 p.m.*
- Sept. 22 at Winter Springs 7 p.m.
- Sept. 29 at Osceola 7 p.m. *
- Oct. 6 Gateway 7:30 p.m.
- Oct. 20 at South Lake 7 p.m.
- Oct. 27 at Celebration 7:30 p.m.*
- Nov. 3 Harmony 7 p.m.