Holtville has a majority of its starters from both sides of the ball back this season and the Bulldogs will need all the help they can get as they move to Class 5A for the first time in program history. Despite the numbers being on its side, Holtville will have to replace fill some key holes in its lineup but coach Jason Franklin is confident the Bulldogs have the right personnel to get the job done and it starts with the team’s signal caller.
Braxton Buck, senior quarterback
After being thrown in the fire as a sophomore due to an injury, Buck has found himself as the off and on quarterback for the Bulldogs. Now, he is set to take on the full-time role for the first time in his career but his experience has certainly prepared him for this day to come.
Over the last two seasons, Buck has thrown for 2,271 yards and 33 touchdowns with just 17 interceptions. Many of his favorite targets are returning this season and Buck could be set for a breakout season.
“You can’t replace all the game experience he’s got,” Franklin said. “He has a ton of big game experience and that’s a big plus. His biggest improvement has been being a more vocal leader. We need him to do that.”
Drew Pickett, sophomore running back
Pickett showed some early promise as a freshman, running for 100 yards in his first game of the season. He took a backseat role for the next few weeks but was once again called upon when Holtville’s No. 1 running back went out for the season with an injury.
It did not take long for Pickett to show himself worthy of the top spot on the depth chart and finished as the team’s leading rusher, recording 695 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.
“You’re going to figure he’s going to double the number of carries and that should double in production,” Franklin said. “He could be the first 1,000-yard back since I got here. That could be him as a sophomore. He’s increased his strength and speed. His endurance is a lot better. He’s been one of the hardest workers in the weight room. He looks the part now.”
Mikey Forney, junior linebacker
Holtville’s leading tackler will return in the middle of the defense and it’s hard to see where Forney can get better on the field this season. He finished with 110 total tackles including 10 for a loss, three sacks plus an interception and a fumble recovery.
The Bulldogs may need to get even more leadership from Forney on the defensive end since former team captain Hunter Martin graduated. Franklin said that will certainly be a difficult hole to fill but Forney is more than prepared to take on an even bigger role this season.
“Mikey has always made all of our calls and he has pretty much been our captain over there,” Franklin said. “He made every check and adjustment. He knows how to make us right in that front seven. The kid has an extremely high football IQ and when you have that, sometimes all you have to do is get out of the way and let him play football.”
Lane Batyski, senior offensive lineman
Holtville has all five starters back on its offensive line but Batyski has found a way to stand out above the rest with his play on the field. Franklin said it’s always important to have an alpha at the line of scrimmage to lead the bunch and Batyski has proven himself to be that guy for the Bulldogs.
Batyski was named honorable mention all-state lineman last season in Class 4A and may be even better this season. The three-year starter has more experience at the varsity level than any other player on Holtville’s roster.
“He has that chip on his shoulder when he’s on the field,” Franklin said. “He’s a very vocal leader and is always in a great mood. You don’t have those guys very often. Your offensive line won’t be that good if you don’t have that guy.”
Garrett Ingram, junior athlete
Holtville got a glimpse at what Ingram could provide to its offense late in the season last year. Franklin said there was a bit of a learning curve for Ingram when he first got on the team but he showed off some explosiveness in the final three weeks.
Ingram recorded 161 of his 192 all-purpose yards in those three games last season, including two games with more than 70 receiving yards each. The Bulldogs hope some of that momentum can carry over into 2020 and Ingram can become a bigger weapon in the offense and as the return man.
“There’s no doubt he’s going to be a bigger threat this year,” Franklin said. “He’s our true home run threat. He can really stretch the field and that’s going to open up some lanes for everybody else. That’s going to be a big positive for us.”