Bolles’ goal as title game looms: ‘Can we be better?’

Bulldogs face Miami Booker T. Washington on Wednesday in Daytona Beach

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – And then there was one.

Bolles is the only local high school football team remaining in the playoffs. Wednesday, the Bulldogs will face Miami Booker T. Washington for the Class 4A title in Daytona Beach.

Sound familiar?

The two schools have met four previous times in the state finals, with Bolles winning in 2011 and Washington taking the next three seasons.

First-year Bolles’ head coach Matt Toblin was not a part of those games, but he is familiar with Washington and its reputation. As an assistant at Nease, Toblin and the Panthers faced Washington in the state finals in 2007.

“I was on the losing end of their first state championship,” Toblin said. “When I was at Nease, they started this against us. So they've been really good for a long time.”

They’re good again this year.

The Tornadoes boast a 12-2 record. Their only losses have been to Miami Central, who will play in the 6A championship game on Thursday, and national power IMG Academy.

The Bulldogs have won 11 straight since losing the season opener to University Christian. Along they way, they have beaten a few top teams, but the schedule has not been as grueling as Booker T. Washington’s. That prompted some of Toblin’s players to ask the coach a seemingly surprising question: “Are we good.”

“We don’t want to necessarily ask the question, ‘Are we good.’ It’s, ‘Can we be better?’ And that’s it,” Toblin said. “When we come out for each day, that’s the goal. We’re going to find ways to get better each week.”

Toblin’s task was not an easy one this season.

He became the first man since 1988 to coach at Bolles other than legendary coach Corky Rogers or Roger’s longtime assistant, Wayne Belger.

Toblin’s arrival marked the beginning of an era and a change of offensive philosophy. While a number of longtime Bolles’ assistants remained on staff, Toblin brought with him a number of assistants with whom he had previously worked, including offensive coordinator Josh Hoekstra, who had been the head coach at Clay.

The offense changed from the Wing-T to a spread offense. Success didn’t come immediately, but the offensive line adapted to their new roles and the quarterback play of Ben Netting and Jeremiah Johnson complemented one another to keep the Bulldogs unbeaten after the opener.

Along the way, the team developed a trust of the coaching staff and the coaches earned credibility with the players.

“That been an important component, 100%‚” Toblin says “I don’t know what we did, or what the people that went before us that kind of laid the groundwork for this did, but we are definitely in a situation with the kids, trust that there’s a plan. (So) let’s follow the plan. Let’s see if we can execute. And the coaches are saying, ‘Hey look, let’s put ourselves in situations where the kids have got to make plays and find out what they can do, and let them go win the game.”

Against Booker T. Washington on Wednesday, the Bulldogs’ biggest challenge may be to slow down the highly touted wide receiver Jacorey Brooks.

The junior has caught 86 passes for 1,187 yards and 16 touchdowns this year. He is ranked as the No. 1 junior wide receiver in the nation by ESPN and he has already been offered by 19 schools including Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia and Penn State.

Bolles will be the underdog in the game. But when asked how the Bulldogs can beat the Tornadoes, Toblin said he told his coaching staff, “Don’t be afraid to let them go win the game.”

About the Author: