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File / The Herald Holtville’s Tristan Bullard is expected to move into a linebacker role this season and should make an impact on both sides of the ball in 2019.

The summer football period provides plenty of opportunities for improvement but Holtville coach Jason Franklin knows the preparation for the 2019 season started long before the summer began. After losing in the first round of the playoffs last November, the Bulldogs immediately got back to work and now they are putting on the finishing touches to wrap up the offseason.

“Some people like to put a lot of emphasis on the weightlifting and workouts during the summer,” Franklin said. “For me, this is just a continuation on what we do all year. We start that strength and conditioning work in November so now everybody is on track to where we want them to be for the season.”

Franklin said the goal of the summer is to maintain the standard the coaching staff sets for the team throughout the year. It starts with the players who have been there before doing more than just their share of the work on the field and in the weight room.

“We’re looking for more leadership from our seniors,” Franklin said. “They’re not just role players any more. If I am the only one leading the team and trying to motivate the players, that’s probably not going to work. You’re going to have more success if you are a team led by players.”

The seniors have stepped up throughout the offseason, helping lead a focus on team chemistry with newcomers to the varsity squad. Holtville has seen transfers and younger players move into key roles during the summer but Franklin said the team bond has helped with any transition.

“That’s just about getting back in and getting familiar with what we’re doing as a program and our expectations of the players,” Franklin said. “The team gets along really well and have bonded this summer. It’s good when you have guys hang out this much and still like each other.”

The Bulldogs stayed busy throughout the summer with 7-on-7 camps and OTAs. Franklin admitted those camps are not about the results but seeing the little improvements at the individual level and collectively as a team.

“We definitely got a lot better at the OTAs and other camps,” Franklin said. “You start seeing those gains in increments for the guys who have been in the program a while. We’ve come a long way from where we were in June and that’s the most important thing.”

Franklin specifically spoke highly of the improvements made by the linebacker group since the end of last season. The Bulldogs will be replacing two starters behind the defensive line and the lone returner is entering his sophomore season.

However, the coaching staff expects that returner, Mikey Forney, to be the leader in the middle of the defense. Plus, he will be surrounded by players who have taken some big strides in the weight room and at the summer camps.

“Defensively, our linebackers have really stepped up,” Franklin said. “Coplin Gilliand has made some drastic improvements so he and Tanner Potts can give us a lot of quality snaps. Plus, we know what we’re going to get from Mikey and we’ve moved Tristan Bullard down there to help out.”

Holtville will not officially start its season until Week 1 on Aug. 30 but the Bulldogs will host B.B. Comer in a fall jamboree August 23. The Bulldogs have an extra week of offseason preparation than many teams across the state but Franklin said the team will not be wasting any time in getting game ready.

“We’ll usually do a five-day install on both sides of the ball,” Franklin said. “We just want to have a refresh time for everything we have put in during the spring and summer. We want to have everything in by that second week (of practice) so we can be ready for the fall jamboree and Week 1.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.