In his first season at Bartow, veteran head coach Richard Tate said he sees no reason why the Yellow Jackets can’t recapture the postseason tradition it built through the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s.
That might look like a lofty goal considering he takes over a program that was 3-17 over the past two years (0-10 last year) and enters this season on a 12-game losing streak.
However, Tate said the talent is there for the Yellow Jackets to make a run at the playoffs this year.
“The biggest thing is to convince them they can still play,” said Tate, who was an assistant at Bartow in the early '90s. “They’re a year older and it’s time to go. No more excuses.”
That’s been his message and he has seen progress since stepping in last spring after head-coaching stops at Kathleen, George Jenkins and Ridge Community.
Sophomore Lin Johnson will be at quarterback with a pair of running backs – Maurice Bell and Amarion Baker -- that Tate feels will give the Yellow Jackets a strong ground game. The Jackets won’t be one dimensional, though.
“We’ll be multiple,” Tate said. “We have running backs that can give us a good ground game and pound the rock. The quarterback has a nice arm and good idea what he’s trying to do.
“We’ll try to establish the run and take care of play action passes.”
Tate said the Yellow Jackets hope to be tough and physical on defense.
“We have some good defensive speed,” he said. “We’re not huge, but we have enough size and tenacity we’ll be able to line up and get after people and play good, hard-nosed Bartow football.”
Baker in the secondary and Jerrell Green at linebacker head up the defense with 280-pound Ryan Elbert seeing action on both the offensive and defensive lines.
The Yellow Jackets move to a new district (Class 7A, District 6) where they will be paired up with Winter Haven, George Jenkins, Liberty and Poinciana.
And as Tate said, the goal is to get the Bartow program back to being a postseason contender. From 1980 through 2006, the Yellow Jackets made 15 playoff appearances and won state titles in 1985 and 1996. They also won a state title in 1977.
Since 2006, Bartow has made just one playoff appearance (2014).
“The expectations don’t change,” Tate said. “I expect to be in the district and working toward the district championship and turning it around as quick as we can. I don’t think it’s completely broke
“We’ve got some good players who have come in and worked hard,” Tate said. “I’m excited about our opportunity this fall.”