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May 29, 2014

PREP FOOTBALL: Bates sees stronger, more experienced Bronco squad heading into 2nd season

CULLMAN — Mike Bates didn’t exactly receive a warm welcome upon his return to Cullman County.

The longtime football coach took over the reins of the Holly Pond program last season with the full intention of turning his Green and White group into a perennial playoff contender.

Unfortunately for Bates, his first campaign with the Broncos was met with a difficult schedule, vast inexperience and some tough injuries that ultimately led to an 0-10 finish.

However, when coaches and players reunited for10 days of spring practice, Bates couldn’t help but notice quite a drastic change in his team following the offseason.

“We’re a lot stronger,” the coach said. “That was evident at the start. We had 46 out, which was a great number. It was a good spring for us. We had a lot of young kids and we worked plenty on fundamentals. We looked more like a football team.”

While Holly Pond will need to replace nine departing seniors, including talented playmaker Jacob Jones and center Mitchell Naler, Bates is more than confident in the players he actually has returning during the fall.

Dustin Pierce, John Phillips and Alex Diaz — along with Matt Doyle, a transfer who sat out last season, and Tony Vazquez, injuries — will all get their chance in the backfield to help the Green and White replace Jones’ quality production at tailback.

“It’s going to be a bit of a committee for us,” Bates said. “I think we’ll have more depth. We’ve got several guys we want to step up and contribute at other positions, too.”

One place Bates won’t have to worry too much about is at quarterback, where Michael Lambert returns after starting all 10 games as a freshman last season. The dual-threat athlete impressed his coaches with his spirit and durability and Bates hopes to see his now sophomore continue to improve.

“He worked real hard this spring,” he said. “He’s a tough kid who’s highly competitive. We’re looking forward to having him back under center for us again in the fall.”

The Broncos chose to forgo a traditional jamboree game this spring in order to work more on themselves than anybody else. It also allowed Bates and his assistants to take solid advantage of their second year with the squad — a luxury Bates said can’t be looked past by anyone.

“You know who they are and what they can do this time,” he added. “It makes things a lot easier for us coaches. The players who are coming back are a lot more familiar with what we want to do here.”

The spring drills may be over for now, but Bates is well aware about the approaching fall. The coach said he hopes his Bronco squad will continue to put in the work and build on their quality foundation set back in the winter.

“The offseason program was huge for us,” Bates said. “There were times last year we played eight freshmen. We are getting a lot stronger and more experienced now. If they put in all their work this summer, we are going to be just fine.”

Holly Pond will welcome in West End for its fall jamboree Aug. 22 before beginning its 2014 campaign with a road contest at Brindlee Mountain the following Friday.

The Broncos’ Region 5 is made up of county rivals Hanceville and Vinemont — as well as Susan Moore, Oakman, Winfield and Winston County.

% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at jwinfrey@cullmantimes.com.

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