Although Kyle Sasser takes over as the fourth different Bloodhounds head coach in the past six seasons, he has bagged quick results with a 56-18 victory against Discovery in the spring game and the Polk 7v7 championship trophy this summer.
Between offense and defense, Auburndale lost nine starters from a squad posting just three wins during the 2018 campaign, but Sasser said his team has character and they won't beat themselves with foolish mistakes anymore.
“We don't know what is going to happen, but one thing we do know is we can control what we can control," he said. "We can control our reaction to things. That is something that has changed. We don't let other people dictate how we react. That is a big-type positive for us."
Ask most teams what type of offense they're going to run, and the answer seems to come back "multiple." But Sasser is serious about it, so move aside read-and-react defenses, the Bloodhounds are employing a read-and-react offense.
“If the opponent has a weak pass defense, then we may throw the ball 40 times," he said. "If the opponent has a weak run defense, then we may run the ball 40 times. We are going to be real good at a few things. But we are also going to take advantage of whatever weakness we can find."
No quarterback controversy is brewing in Auburndale. Senior Sabata Bridges has solidified himself as the starter. He passed for 1,184 yards and 13 touchdowns last year.
“He brings a lot to the team and offense. He is starting to turn a corner now with his leadership and being vocal," Sasser said. "He is athletic, has a good arm and makes good decisions. He knows when to take a sack or throw it away."
Top offensive players include dynamic wide receiver Norman Babers and strong-handed Nick Harris. The line injects new faces but will be anchored by veteran center Josh Haney.
The ball-carrying core runs deep with Tadarius Thomas, who bulled his way for 188 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game, and the speedy Merari McCullough, who scored four touchdowns while breaking free for 101 yards in the spring game. Senior Tre'veon Raggs is considered the all-purpose back.
“We have all three styles of running. We have a bruiser, a flash-back and then an all-purpose back,” Sasser said. “Up front we are going to be young and play the hokey-pokey and shuffling around until we find the right fit.”
The Bloodhounds are moving away from the 4-3 and will take on multiple looks with three, four and five linemen up front on any given down.
“The defense is going to be flexible. We are going to be really good at a few things and be able to stop whatever your tendencies are,” Sasser said.
Predicted impact playmakers are Aubrey Burks at nickel, outside linebacker and strong safety, and senior defensive end Charvon Depriest. Sophomore Chuck Taylor will pop pads at nose guard. Linebackers include Hunter Miller and Alex Bledsoe.
“We will have kids playing in a lot of different positions," Sasser said. "We will be moving kids around rather than saying, 'You are the strong-side linebacker'."
With critical road games against district foes Palm Bay Heritage and Kissimmee Gateway — both 2018 playoff teams — and arch-rival Winter Haven all running consecutively on the October schedule, Auburndale will have time to tweak and prepare for the frightening end of the schedule appearing before Halloween.
“I like our kids, and once they are bought in and click at the right time, the only people that can stop them is them. I believe in my kids," Sasser said. “The kids here have never won a district trophy since they have been at school, yet they have been competitive with some of the top teams. Most of the games that were lost, were lost big. So, we can't worry about other people, we have to focus on us and execute.”