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SPRING SIDELINES: Central working to follow up a breakout year

Spring Sidelines 2019 Episode 3: Forsyth Central

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The Forsyth Central football team went through no small amount of pain and humiliation in Class 7A before the Bulldogs' breakthrough in 2018, when they went 7-4 and made the state playoffs. Those wins came on the heels of 17 straight losses, with no wins at all in 2017.

Central isn't expecting to go back there any time soon. But they aren't trying to erase that history, either.

"We talked a lot in the offseason about trying to improve on (2018)," Bulldogs head coach Frank Hepler said, "and not to forget the 0-10 year, because the 0-10 is what made the 7-4."

Last year's Bulldogs had a standout defense, with seniors like Jackson Leak and Tristen Rose leading both in the locker room and on the stat sheet. Central doesn't expect much drop-off in that unit, with All-County first team defensive lineman Alex Szakacs set to return and talented linebacker Mitch Weber on track to be back after missing 2018 with a torn ACL. Defensive back Jake Bretz and linebacker Branden Redecker are also expected to bolster the unit as seniors.

"We definitely feel that we're at a higher standard now, compared to when coach Hepler first got here," Szakacs said. "It was building, and now it's winning."

Central also has found a consistent identity on offense after implementing an option attack starting last spring. The Bulldogs weren't often explosive on that side of the ball in 2018, ranking last in the region in total yards per game, but they were fourth in points scored and ate up plenty of game time with the run-heavy look.

The Bulldogs are installing some additional wrinkles into the offense, including more spread-based concepts to balance passing and running, but they're sticking with the same basic model.

"This offense is what works best for our kids right now," Hepler said.

As Central's student body grows and the good feeling surrounding the football program spreads the Bulldogs have seen their standards increase not just at the varsity level: The freshman and junior varsity teams took leaps forward in 2018, and Otwell Middle School, long one of the weakest programs at that level in the county, made the championship game last fall.

The Bulldogs no longer have nowhere to go but up. Hepler isn't feeling more pressure, though, or much at all.

"I'm 57 years old, and I've been a head football coach for 27 seasons, and I've been on a one-year contract everywhere I've been," Hepler said. "So every year is the same ... you definitely don't want to be 0-10, and you're hoping for 10-0, but you also just want to do what's best for the kids and try to get hired back for next year to try to keep improving.

"So no pressure at all. It's so much fun."