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Bucktail gets ready for season with offseason workouts

KEVIN RAUCH/For the Sun-Gazette Bucktail football coach Jared Hurlbert (left) goes over instructions for drills with senior Paul Rilsey, center, and Ashton Intallura, right, as the Bucks are hopeful there will be a typical season this fall despite the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was a welcome sight filled with hope and promise last week at Bucktail as the junior and senior high football teams hit the field for grass drills.

Sure, there’s a cloud that covers the atmosphere filled with the unknown, wondering what the coronavirus will mean to the upcoming season. Still, seeing the kids participate in drills and live in the moment, trash talking each other into pushing each other, it was a glimmer of hope that things may just get back to normal again.

Even under normal circumstances there’s a lot going on for the Bucks this year. It’s a team filled with star senior power headlined on offense by returning 1,000-yard rusher Gage Sutliff. The defense is led by a healthy Paul Risley, whose personality alone can power an entire defense.

A young Bucks team a season ago was led by a new coaching staff, including first-year coach Jared Hurlbert. His live-in football camp at the school was a major change for the program. Hurlbert’s first decision as a coach was get Tony Kopp on as offensive coordinator and Kopp’s offense featured much different play-calling than any of the players had seen before.

This season features a team which has had a year of experience under Hurlbert. It’s a group which will know what to expect and will be led by seniors who have a winning mentality.

That’s where the coronavirus pandemic just doesn’t seem fair to the student-athletes who just want to be teenagers, get back to school and play football for the final time as a Bucktail Buck. Even the simple start of grass drills isn’t lost on the team captains.

“Being quarantined for so long it’s great to be out here, it’s sad to think about that we may not have a senior season, but it’s great to be out here right now and working hard on getting better,” Risley said during a break in drills.

It would be hard to envision a season that isn’t led emotionally by Risley, one of those players that has the rare we-can-do-anything attitude. Looking back at the 2019 season, after Risley broke his ankle following Week 5, it’s no surprise it became a tough uphill battle for a young, inexperienced team.

Although the senior soaked in the grass drills, there were signs everywhere this isn’t a normal preseason. The players are screened prior to practice, social distancing sees the offensive and defensive lines standing apart from each other as the coaches don face masks.

Fellow captain and senior Sutliff is trying to balance the unknown with improving. It’s not hyperbole to think that the running back seems poised for a season that will live in Bucktail lore forever.

As a junior last year it became commonplace for Sutliff to leave would-be tacklers on the ground. More damage would be done to them after being run over than to Sutliff, who was carrying three other tacklers for a few more yards. Sutliff’s build alone rivals any college back, starting with tree-trunk thighs.

“This is it, this is our final grass drills, we’re ready to enjoy all of this and get out there and play this season,” said Sutliff following the second night of drills. “We want to play, we’re going to have a better season than last year for sure.”

“No one knows what tomorrow will bring, but today there is football,” Hurlbert said following two evenings of drills. “We told the players at the end of last season that during the off-season was their opportunity to earn spots, every position is open. It is a testament to the kids who are currently coming out when it is hot and uncomfortable. These kids are taking the challenge to heart, and are utilizing every minute they have to get to play a game that hopefully they love. Our numbers are extremely high for this time of year, and it goes to show that kids want to earn a starting position. It is energizing for the kids and for the staff to see kids coming out and competing with each other already.”

As far as what the season and being able to play hold in the future for the Bucks, Sutliff also has a take one-day-at-a-time approach.

“We have the green light right now (to play) and we can only get better, if it does come to us not being able to play our senior season, it’s going to be really, really sad,” he said.

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