Throughout Guyer’s four-year stretch of making deep playoff runs after two futile seasons of starting up its football program, the Wildcats have always relied on an offense with a bit of an old-school feel in today’s age of wide-open passing attacks.
A group of standout running backs has made that approach possible.
Guyer had Jamaine Wilhite, then Treavon Walton and finally Sebastain Williams powering its ground game the last four seasons.
For the third time in as many years, there will be a new feature back in Guyer’s offense, and this time around head coach John Walsh believes he might have his best yet.
D.J. Breedlove started one game last season when Williams was injured and, in limited time, ran for 168 yards on 45 carries with two touchdowns and a receiving touchdown. Now, the offense will go through the versatile junior.
“The combination of everything — change of direction, vision and good ball skills — plus his work ethic is stellar,” Walsh said. “When you put that work ethic with all that talent, you know you have something special.
“I’m not gonna lie, tailbacks are usually the prima donnas that you kind of have to push and press buttons for, and you don’t have to press buttons with D.J. He’s ready to go.”
Breedlove won’t be asked to play in the backfield all the time. He’ll share time behind quarterback Jerrod Heard with senior Richard Whitaker. And when Whitaker is lined up in the backfield, it’s a safe bet to assume Breedlove won’t be on the bench. That’s because he’ll see a lot of time as a slot receiver, as well.
“I found out I was gonna play slot receiver too, so that’s been a lot of learning,” Breedlove said. “I was kind of confused during the first practice, but as days went by I studied a lot, and now I’m getting the hang of it. It’s fun.”
Walsh said it was a no-brainer to put Breedlove in different spots on the field, if for no other reason than to keep opposing defenses on their toes.
“He’s going to be the full package,” Walsh said. “His ball skills are so good that when we’re in four-wide [receivers], he’ll be in that inside slot. He won’t come off the field.
“We don’t run the ball much out of four-wide so we have to put our best players where the ball is going. It’s no secret he’s one of those guys.”
Heard cited short-yardage situations as being one of the offense’s biggest issues in 2011, saying there were many instances when drives were killed at the worst possible times.
He added that those situations should not be problematic for the Wildcats in 2012.
“When we need that first down, we’ll always look for D.J.,” Heard said. “He’s going to be big for us there, and also at the goal line when we’re looking to get in the end zone. That was a problem for us last year. He’s going to be the guy we’re looking for when we need those few yards.
“He’s very powerful and elusive, and he’s just very hard to bring down.”
Looking back on the past three running backs to don a Guyer jersey,
2011 record: 8-4 (5-2, District 7-5A)
Coach: John Walsh (47-31 in six seasons at Guyer)
Returning starters: Seven on offense, four on defense
Key players: QB Jerrod Heard, WR Ellis Jefferson, OL Patrick Morris, DB John Schilleci, RB D.J. Breedlove, LB Terence Belton
School enrollment: 2,064
Stadium: C.H. Collins Athletic Complex
Keys to a historic season
Don’t snooze on Class 4A
Guyer should know as well as anyone that Class 4A has some talented teams. The Wildcats went from a top-flight 4A school straight to the Class 5A Division II state championship game in 2010, and now they’re back in 4A with a No. 1 preseason ranking. There’s no question teams will be out to beat the Wildcats, who will have a giant target squarely on their backs throughout the season.
Continue to improve
Jerrod Heard played the best game of his brief career as a starting quarterback in the Wildcats’ playoff win over Hebron before he and his team faltered in a second-round loss to Mansfield. But throughout his sophomore season, Heard continued to make strides as a quarterback. Now committed to Texas, Heard can still improve on many aspects of his game as a junior and appears poised to do just that while leading Guyer on a deep postseason run in its return to Class 4A.
Be the go-to guy
Ellis Jefferson had a big summer. The 6-4, 200-pound senior receiver committed to Arizona State back in July, following in the footsteps of Guyer’s go-to receiver from 2011, Conner Crane (Stanford), by going to a Pac-12 school. Now, the Wildcats are hoping Jefferson can duplicate what Crane did on the high school stage and have a standout senior year. Crane went over 1,000 yards and caught 16 touchdown passes last year while Jefferson had 677 yards and five scores. He’ll need to have Crane-like numbers for the Wildcats to be successful.
Fresh front seven
Guyer has always prided itself on stopping the run defensively. The Wildcats don’t plan on changing that approach this season, but time will tell as they are breaking in an entirely new starting front seven. Four new starters on the defensive line, led by tackle Domenic Pickering and end Thomas Ferguson, and three new linebackers, led by Terrell Singleton, will look to continue a tradition of stuffing the run for Guyer’s defense.