Youth was a concern for the Dixie County football team in 2022.
“We took our share of growing pains last year,” said Brock Canaday, who enters his second season as head coach of the Bears.
But the good news about young players is they learn and grow.
“This year there is a sense of excitement,” Canaday said. “This group has grown together. Last year the majority of our squad was 90%, probably, ninth and 10th graders and now those guys are another year older and stronger. They’ve become more of a cohesive group, so I’m excited to see how much we’ve grown together this full calendar year.”
Last year the Bears finished 2-8, but with the return of eight players on both sides of the ball there is reason for optimism in Cross City.
Canaday expects his team to have a mental mindset to compete better and be more of a physical football team in 2023.
“When you’re playing a top-level varsity schedule with a bunch of ninth and 10th-graders, that’s asking a lot of those young men,” he said. “Now that they’re going to be 10th and 11th graders, we’ll be physically prepared to compete at that kind of level.”
Senior Carter Hodge will enter the season as the team’s starting quarterback. Last year, he rushed for 400 yards and four touchdowns.
“We’ve got a new offensive coordinator from last year so we’re going to be a lot better this year,” he said.
Other key returners on offense include sophomores Tucker Wood and Xaiver Campbell, and juniors Lynard Simpson and William Six, all members of last year’s offensive line who will play on the defensive line too.
Physicality will be a team strength this year, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
“It’s hard to run on us,” Hodge said.
Top returners on defense include juniors Jaheim Taylor (84 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, three sacks) and Mister Williams (40 tackles, six TFL, three sacks).
Key newcomers include athlete Amar Thomas and Charlie Ray, who will play offensive and defensive line.
“We will need to establish a physical run game and limit the big play on defense,” Canaday said.
Senior Darius Cook, who will play outside linebacker and running back, said that in order for this season to be a good one the Bears will need a collective effort.
“We’re going to have to put in a lot of hard work, and we’re going to have to be tough,” he said.
Canaday said the key to a successful season will be continuing to grow together as a team.
“We have plenty of experience from last year but now is the time to see if the hard work has earned us the right to compete with teams this season,” he said.
Dixie County will open the season at home against Lafayette (Mayo) on Friday, Aug. 25.
“Right out of the gate we play a very good Lafayette team,” Canaday said. “They’ve won 30-something games in the last four seasons. They’re a great program. Their coach does a wonderful job there. That’s a big one for us. And obviously Chiefland, they’ve been unreal the past few years. Coach Corbin does a great job.”
The Bears, who will compete in Class 1R-Region 4, will travel to Chiefland on Oct. 6 and also have “a big swing game” at Fort White the following Friday (Oct. 13).
“Fort White beat us at home last year on Homecoming so I’m looking forward to returning the favor over there for their Homecoming, and Chiefland has always been a big rival so I want to beat them,” Hodge said.