Perennial power Buford comes into this season as the three-time defending champions of Class AA and ranked No. 1 in the Georgia Associated Press preseason poll.
Over the past 10 years, Buford football teams have lost a combined seven games, went undefeated five times, been to the championship game eight times and took home six state titles. In 2009, the Wolves returned only four starters from their undefeated season of 2008 but still managed to defend their title.
This year they’ll be returning nine starters, so expectations are as high as they’ve always are in a football community that considers it an off year when the team doesn’t go to the state title game.
“At Buford, we are expected to play championship football,” coach Jess Simpson said. “The team has to find its way because there are a lot of questions to answer.”
The Wolves lost their entire offensive line to graduation, including three players who signed with Division-I schools. To fill that void, Simpson has three juniors he expects to play big in 2010, one on offense and two on defense.
Junior tight end Kurt Frietag provides a dependable target for returning starting quarterback Alex Ross. As a sophomore, Frietag had 12 receptions for 268 yards and four touchdowns.
Ross threw for 1,776 yards and 19 touchdowns last season.
This fall, seniors Eric Barr, Trey Jerkins and Jamal English will step into the receiving roles.
At running back, the Wolves lost Jessel Curry, who accounted for 709 yards a 17 touchdowns last season and is now at Auburn. While that’s a key loss, 2009’s second-leading rusher, Seon Jones, is back. The senior had 643 yards rushing last season with five touchdowns and 5.4 yards per carry, and Simpson believes he has the bodies in the backfield to get the job done.
The main concern on offense carries over to the defense. The Wolves lost all four starters off the defensive line and will return only one senior this season.
In Buford’s 4-3 defense, which allowed a stingy 2.8 rushing yards per attempt in 2009, the front four guys are key. One position that Simpson believes he has covered is defensive end.
The coach expects junior Dillon Lee (6-foot-4, 228 pounds) to take over pass rushing duties at defensive end. Junior linebacker Nathan Staub, who had 122 tackles as a sophomore, should also play a large role.
Returning starter, sophomore David Petroni, will anchor Buford’s kicking game this year after the Wolves averaged over 46 yards a kickoff in 2009 and made 90 percent of extra points attempted.
In a community that has seen so many state championships, the only way for Buford to meet expectations is to win another.