Coach John Fitz knew he faced a tall task when he took over the Jay M. Robinson football program in January.The 26-year veteran, who’s coming off a seven-year stint as an assistant coach at Catawba College, was hired to turn the struggling Bulldogs, who haven’t had a winning season since 2004, into contenders.Robinson may face an uphill battle as the team looks to improve while transitioning to 4A and a tough new conference, the MECKA 4A, despite having one of the smallest enrollments in the classification.But Fitz said he wants his team to play its best, whether it’s facing rival Cox Mill in its season-opener or perennial 4A power Mallard Creek in November.“We’re going to put our pants on and our jerseys on just as they do,” he said. “Football is football. ... I’m not going to worry about all the intangibles that I have no control over or the kids have no control over.”Fitz said he’s been pleased with the work his players put in during the spring and summer. But he admits that it’s taken time for the coaches and players to get on the same page.“They haven’t had a whole lot of success in recent years,” said Fitz, who’s focused on making his team more disciplined while also going back to fundamentals. “There’s a little bit of a culture change that needed to take place.”Quarterback Alex Thornton has been pleased with the changes.“Everything’s really organized, really on point,” he said. “We get a lot more done.”The coach has been encouraged by what he’s seen from Robinson’s skill players, including Thornton and receiver Jimmy Bellamy. The seniors will need to step up for the Bulldog offense to overcome inexperience, especially up front.Thornton, one of the team’s returning starters from last year’s 3-8 squad, will lead the Bulldogs’ new spread, up-tempo attack.“Last year, we ran the ball a lot more, but this year it’s more pass-heavy,” the 6-foot, 175-pounder said. “There’s a lot more pressure on me.”Fitz’s Bulldogs also lack experience defensively, although he thinks the pieces are in place for the unit to compete.He expects junior safety Markel Dalton and sophomore defensive lineman Desmond Mason to lead the defense, which will line up in a three-man front. The formation allows Robinson’s linebackers and backs to be more aggressive and pressure opponents.Fitz said if each of his players does his job, to dominate the guy across from him on the line of scrimmage, he thinks his Bulldogs can take a step forward.“We have to get the kids to understand that it’s a process,” he said. “My goal is to get these kids to believe in themselves and to get them to play as hard and as well as they can.”That approach is already rubbing off.“We need to have heart,” said Bellamy. “It’s about going in and thinking that you’re the better teams. It comes down to the simple fact of who wants it more.”Fitz will be satisfied if he sees that mentality at practice and on Friday nights.“I don’t worry about wins and losses,” he said. “There’s going to be plenty of people putting expectations on you. I’m not going to put that on these kids ... that sets up kids for failure.”
Friday, Aug. 16, 2013
Jay M. Robinson wants to improve under new head coach
Robinson Coach: John Fitz (First year). 2012 record: 3-8. Returning starters: Nine. Key players: • QB Alex Thornton, 6-0, 175, Sr.: Returning starter will have to quickly adjust to new offense. • WR Jimmy Bellamy, 5-11, 160, Sr.: After not playing last season, he should be one of Thornton’s top targets. Can’t-miss games: Cox Mill, Aug. 23, A.L. Brown, Oct. 11, Mallard Creek, Nov. 1.
Tovar: 704-358-5941; Twitter: @sergiotovar
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