Young Bulldogs hope to become more competitive

Jay M. Robinson's football team has focused its summer on learning how to win.

Although Bulldogs head coach Bobby Cloninger said last year's team was made up of "competitors," this year's version needs to learn how to finish off opponents in late-game situations.

"We have to make the plays, we can't let the other teams make all of them," he said.

To do that, the team has been reconstructing late-game scenarios to prepare their players.

"Hopefully when they're confronted with it in a game, it's nothing new to them," said Cloninger.

Robinson finished the season fifth in the South Piedmont Conference with a 5-7 (4-3) record.

But their conference record could have been better if the team had been able to close out tight games, especially a three-point loss to Northwest Cabarrus and a two-point loss to Hickory Ridge.

"Those two games could've meant the difference between finishing second and finishing fifth," said Cloninger.

The Robinson football squad started out the 2009 season on the wrong foot.

The Bulldogs began the season 1-4 with their only win coming against Cuthbertson, a first-year program from Waxhaw.

After losing to Kannapolis by 20 points, the team started to improve as they got farther into SPC play.

The Bulldogs were competitive on their way to defeating favored Concord and Mount Pleasant teams.

This year's Bulldogs will be young after losing several major players to graduation, including all-conference players Robert Cloninger, the quarterback, and Tony Francis, running back.

"It's hard to replace them," said Bobby Cloninger, who is in entering his sixth season at the helm of the Robinson program.

Robert Cloninger, the coach's son, threw for 17 touchdowns and only two interceptions on his way to completing 58 percent of his passing attempts while Francis rushed for 1,800 yards, so the team's offensive unit will have a lot of rebuilding to do.

The Bulldogs' offense also lost most of their experienced line, except for senior Nelson White.

Cloninger said the 6-3, 245 pound lineman is a consistent player who will play a major role in the young offense.

The team will also have a talented wide receiver corps, led by senior Dominique Bellamy, who played well at the end of last season.

Senior Troy Parker, a physical running back, will take up the rushing duties for the Bulldogs, while senior Joey Bastine will be the Bulldogs' quarterback.

Robinson will run a multiple offense, lining up mainly in the pro-I with a variable number of backfield players.

The Bulldogs' defense will be the team's stronghold.

"We're going to be more athletic and have kids who have been in this defense concept for a second-full year and already know and understand what we're trying to do," said Cloninger.

He added that this year's defensive side is better talent-wise compared to last year, although he adds that they still have work to do when it comes to chemistry.

The team lost a solid linebacker in all-SPC selection Tyler Robertson, as well as a few defensive linemen.

NaShaun Dingle, a senior linebacker, will lead the defense, which Cloninger explained will run a multiple 50 scheme.

Cloninger said that in order for Robinson to have a successful year on the gridiron, his role players from last year will have to step up and play major roles on the team.

"If they do that, we'll be very competitive," he said.

And that's exactly what Cloninger expects for his team this upcoming fall - for them to play hard and be in a position to win every game they play.

"We aren't going to concede anything to anybody," he said.

"Our goal is to play to our potential every week."

The Bulldogs are already hard at work.

The Bulldogs have worked out and participated in a few seven-on-seven games - against Monroe and Union Academy - while also holding a mini-camp last week to get the team prepared for the beginning of practice, which started Monday.

Cloninger said it was important to get a head start because the team's youth will force him to rely a lot on underclassmen.

"That way it's not all Greek to them - they understand the terminology we're trying to use," he said.

Cloninger, who has coached for 34 years, said he's excited about the upcoming season.

"I'm going to have an opportunity here to work hard and put these kids into a position to turn this program around - to make it a little more consistent."