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Under new coach, Tigers aim to keep rising
Bradwell Institute standout Kevin Harris (3) has already been offered a scholarship by Tulane. - photo by Photo by Bryan Browning

The Bradwell Tigers football team had a pretty successful 2016 season as it made the playoffs for the first time since 2009. With a new coach in place at the top, the team looks to make even bigger strides this year.

Bradwell finished the 2016 season 3-6-1 and earned the fourth seed in Region 2-AAAAAA. Despite falling to eventual state runners-up, the Tucker Tigers, in a one-side first round affair, Bradwell and new head coach Ross Couch are optimistic about the upcoming season.

Couch, who returned to Bradwell earlier this year after spending time at Windsor Forest as the defensive coordinator, said he was really impressed with the team’s commitment to the program over the summer.

"The kids really bought into what we’re doing," Couch said before explaining their top priority in the offseason. "Number one goal was to develop some mental toughness and I think we’re starting to turn the corner. It’s going to be a process and take some time to get where we think we need to be, but it’s all about holding them to standards and expectations."

The Tigers finished the 2016 season with a losing record, but the three wins were a huge step up from the previous two seasons, when they went winless. Bradwell broke a three-way tie for fourth place in the region, giving them their first playoff berth in seven seasons.

Couch is excited for the Tigers to build off their experience playing in the postseason.

"The experience of playing in that playoff atmosphere and knowing you’re one of the last teams in the state to play football is always a good feeling," he said. "We’re definitely trying to take this team and build on that. Trying to say ‘OK, this is where you started, now let’s get to where you wanna go.’"

The Tigers were a young team last year and that just means the players coming back this year are another year older and looking to make a big impact.

Undoubtedly, the Tigers will rely heavily on junior running back Kevin Harris. He has been given a four-star rating by Rivals and has already been offered a scholarship by Tulane University in New Orleans.

Harris missed the first half of the 2016 season with a broken ankle, still returned to rush for over 600 yards in five games.

The Tigers will miss quarterback Quin McMassey, who transferred to Dacula High School after his dad was moved to Atlanta with the military. However, junior Vencent Gilbert has stepped up into the starting role and Couch praised him for his development since the spring.

"(Gilbert) has stepped in and he’s done a great job learning the offense and developing as a passer," Couch said. "Learning football, that’s one thing we are focused on with him."

The Tigers are also excited about their talented offensive line, which returns seniors Keon Williams and Cameron Ivy. They both know that they are going to have to step and help the younger guys on the offensive line this year.

"We have to got to help them out and just be a leader," Williams said. "I’m a senior, so I’ve basically got to be a coach on the field with them."

Defensively, the Tigers return four starters and Couch seems to think that will be the strength. Middle linebacker Andrew Rafferty missed most of the 2016 season with injuries and he has made the switch from defensive lineman to linebacker, while sophomore outside linebacker Clifton Bryant was referred to as "one of the most athletic guys on the team" by Couch.

The summer is one of the most important times for a high school football team and a few of the players felt like they learned a lot under Couch this year.

"The summer has been pretty tough," Jaliel Nieves, who switched from cornerback to safety, said. "I had to learn a lot of stuff and it was kind of difficult at first. But you catch on easy if you just pay attention and don’t let up."

The Tigers fell to Swainsboro in their preseason scrimmage game on Aug. 11, but they look to use that as a learning tool going into the season. Bradwell travels across town to play the Liberty County Panthers in their season opener on Friday.

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