Drake Baker OTAs

Drake Baker (1) returns from injury to take on duties as Holtville’s starting quarterback.

The Holtville football team finished the 2018 season with more victories than it combined for in the previous six years. The Bulldogs made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2010 and are now looking to take the next step as a program.

Holtville graduated 16 players off last year’s team but the returning talent is more than capable of filling in the gaps this season. There is plenty of potential this program has not seen in a long time so the Bulldogs will look to a key group of returning starters to take the lead as the team looks for its first playoff victory since 1993.

Drake Baker

Baker has been a player to watch for the Bulldogs for the last two seasons as well but his junior year got derailed because of an elbow injury to his throwing arm. He had to step aside as backup quarterback Braxton Buck, who also returns this season, took over as starter and threw for 1,854 yards last season.

However, Baker is now fully recovered and has taken a majority of the first-team snaps during the offseason. During 13 career games as the starter, Baker has averaged more than 200 passing yards per game and has thrown for 25 touchdowns.

Baker is listed as a 3-star quarterback by 247 Sports and has received several offers from Division I schools, including Tennessee. Holtville was a pass-first team last season and with Baker back in the fold, expect the Bulldogs to rely on their senior quarterback even more this season than they have in the past.

Peyton Coburn

While the return of Baker is promising for Holtville’s passing attack, the Bulldogs will have to find a new set of wide receivers to be on the other end of the passes. Holtville lost five of its top six receivers from last season’s team but Coburn could become one of the go-to receivers for Baker in late-game situations.

Coburn finished last season with 269 receiving yards and four touchdowns, leading all returning players in both categories. While newcomers will be expected to help carry the load throughout the season, Coburn could be looked at heavily during the first few weeks of the season to help with the flow of the offense.

While most of his impact will be seen in the passing game, Coburn’s ability as a punter will be important when things go wrong for the offense. Last season, Coburn averaged 43.4 yards per punt last season to earn Alabama Sports Writers Association All-State honors for Class 4A.

Hunter Martin

Martin’s impact on last season was more than what he put on the stat sheet but even just the numbers were impressive enough. He started all 11 games at defensive end and finished with 64 total tackles, 13 sacks, one fumble recovery and one blocked kick.

Martin also returns as the most experienced rusher for the Bulldogs, carrying the ball 42 times for 124 yards and one touchdown last season. Holtville coach Jason Franklin said he expects Martin to be involved with the rushing attack but most of his impact will likely be on the defensive side of the ball.

While there should be plenty of big plays for Holtville’s offense throughout the season, Martin gives the defense a threat of explosiveness that can change the momentum of a game.

Lane Batiski

The youngest returning starter on the offensive side of the ball will anchor an offensive line Franklin calls the team’s biggest strength. After starting at right guard last season, Batiski will move to the starting center role in his junior season for the Bulldogs.

Holtville rushed for 120.2 yards per game last season but lost three starters from the offensive line. The coaching staff is confident with the players who are returning but it will look to Batiski as the leader of the line to make sure the transition with a new set of players goes smoothly entering the season.

Mikey Forney

Forney is the youngest returning starter on either side of the ball but the Bulldogs already look at him as a leader on defense. While starting all 11 games at linebacker last season, Forney recorded 43 tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery for a touchdown during his freshman season.

The Bulldogs are losing five of their top six tacklers from last season but with Forney controlling the center of the defense, the team is confident in the rest of the players picking up the slack. Franklin said Forney has continued to grow stronger during the offseason and he could be the leading tackler for the Bulldogs even as a sophomore.

Kolby Potts

With so many skill positions needing to be filled on offense, the Bulldogs needed to find a player with experience to help out in the backfield. Potts played at Edgewood last season where he rushed for 1,360 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Wildcats in AISA, including a 286-yard performance in the state semifinals.

Potts has seen a lot of first-team reps during the offseason and should make an immediate impact on the Bulldogs’ offense.

Franklin said the team expects Potts to see plenty of time on the field and the Bulldogs will likely rely on him in the rushing attack.

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.