GERALDINE — Defending Class 3A, Region 7 football champion Geraldine launched its summer strength and conditioning program last week.
The Bulldogs entered the summer riding the momentum of a 24-7 triumph over Collinsville in the DeKalb County Spring Jamboree at Valley Head.
Geraldine lost three starters on the offensive line from last season’s squad, which finished 9-3 and won the program’s first region title since 2012. The Bulldogs made their 12th consecutive postseason appearance.
Seniors Jacob Hamilton and Tyler Hughes are Geraldine’s returning starters on the offensive line. Tackles Caleb Benefield, a sophomore, and Garrett Barclay, a junior, joined them in the spring, along with junior guard Tristan Estes.
“Tristan Estes came back out in the spring,” said fifth-year GHS head coach Brad Waldrop. “He started several games as a freshman but didn’t play his sophomore year. He wound up filling the other hole.
“We moved things around a little bit actually two days before the spring game, because we still didn’t have anything solidified. We wound up putting the Hughes kid at center and the Estes kid at guard, where Hughes played last year. Jacob is still playing his guard position.
“We had some success, and it may or may not stay that way. In spring you get 10 days — you’re just trying to put something together to see what you’ve got. There still may be some shuffling to be done.”
DJ Graham, a senior, returns for his second season as Geraldine’s starting quarterback. He threw for 1,118 yards and nine touchdowns in 2018.
“DJ is a real heady kid,” Waldrop said. “He’s a smart kid. He does a great job getting people lined up and running the offense. He’s become real disciplined with his eyes. He knows what he’s supposed to be looking at.
“He’s just a good all-around field general. He does what he’s supposed to do.”
Seniors Kyle Thackerson, Chase Kermondy and Austin King and junior Anthony Baldwin are returning backs for the Bulldogs.
Seniors Brandon East and Austin Hall and sophomore Bo Harper are returning at the receiver position.
“[Senior] Jackson Bearden is back at tight end, and it’s his second year to start there,” Waldrop said.
“The [Sebastian] Totherow kid [a junior], he’s got a lot of potential at one of the backs. When he comes on I think he can help us. He’s got a lot of potential. He’s got a high ceiling.”
Geraldine returns nine of 11 starters on defense, including leading tackler Bearden.
“Up front, we were a revolving door last year,” Waldrop said. “A lot of these guys, even if they didn’t start, they were in during the first series.
“We’ve got a lot of experience back up front — Tyler Hughes, [senior] Gattlon Riddle and Austin King. This will be Austin’s third year starting at defensive tackle.
“Jacob Hamilton probably got 75 percent of the snaps last year at defensive tackle.
“Jackson’s got a year under his belt starting at Mike linebacker. Chase is back at the Will linebacker. The Sam [linebacker] wound up being Baldwin in the spring.
“The Totherow kid is a pretty good outside linebacker. [Sophomore] Jose Garcia is a pretty good inside linebacker.
“Jose is 6-1, 200. Jackson is 6-1, 225. If you can put two 200-pound inside linebackers in the box in 3A football, that’s pretty good.”
Geraldine’s secondary returns starting cornerbacks Harper and Graham and safety Thackerson.
“With the secondary guys, who knows what’s going to happen between now and the fall,” Waldrop said.
“DJ can play safety. We’ve got a ninth-grade kid, [former Bulldog star Andrew] Hall’s little brother, Caleb Hall, and he doesn’t have a ceiling. We just don’t know when his light is going to come on. He could start, but I don’t know if he will or not.
“Brandon East is a pretty good cover corner. Thackerson, it doesn’t matter where you put him. You can put him at safety, you can put him at corner, you can put him at outside linebacker, it doesn’t matter. He’s efficient at all of them.”
The Bulldogs will host and travel to Collinsville for competition days. They will also compete in a 7-on-7 tournament at Sylvania on July 11.
“I’m not a big fan of 7-on-7s,” Waldrop said. “It can be bad for your quarterback in a sense because he gets used to just standing back there and throwing the football, and ain’t nobody trying to hit him and ain’t nobody getting after him.
“I don’t like it for my linebackers because they know it’s pass. They’re not downhill, they’re not having to work to get into a pass drop.
“It helps your secondary as a whole because it helps them with adjustments. You get to see all the formations, and you understand how you want to basically adjust to everything.”
Geraldine kicks off the 2019 season Aug. 24 by hosting archrival Crossville in the 98th battle of Skirum Creek.