Playing a tough schedule a year ago, Mount Dora Christian went 4-0 in district play. The Bulldogs made it to the state semifinals.

MOUNT DORA — Mount Dora Christian Academy comes into the fall with high expectations. The Bulldogs went 4-0 in district play last season and made a run to the state semifinals in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference. The team has built a reputation for being small but scrappy, but some outsized opponents could make this their toughest season yet.

"We have a very difficult schedule," said head coach Kolby Tackett.

In addition to the usual foes from Orlando-area private schools, the Bulldogs will take on the much larger Belleview High School — a Class 5A school with more than twice the enrollment. Tackett said that's part of being a Bulldog.

"We take pride in getting off the bus with our 26 kids and you look across the field and see we're up against 55 to 60. Our kids kinda love that," he said. "I love it."

That means the hard work begins even before the summer. Players are in the weight room year-round and coaches stress mental and physical toughness. Summer turnout was the best Tackett has seen at MDCA.

Tackett's says his offensive scheme plays into the team's core values.

"To run the single wing you have to be selfless because there's one guy running, there's 10 guys blocking," he said. "You have to navigate those waters and say 'It's really not about me.'"

Tackett says his offense requires precision. The Bulldogs will run the same play 20 times in one practice so that the assignments and movements become second nature. So far, the system seems to be working. Tackett says the offense is functioning even better than last year.

Defensively, there are still question marks. While Tackett only lost five players to graduation, that includes area standout and Daily Commercial Defensive Player of the Year Jesiah Pierre, who has taken his talents to the University of Florida. Losing such a dominant player hasn't shaken the team, Tackett said.

"With some programs, when you lose a kid like that the excuses are really easy to make. We've seen the opposite. Kids have worked harder. We've got good leadership," he said.

Playing both sides of the ball is a given for many, and they take the extra snaps as a source of pride. Tackett admits that depth, especially later in the season, could be a challenge.

Though Tackett stresses there is still a lot of work ahead, his players have shown discipline and a hunger to prove themselves again. Practice has gone well, and players are highly invested in the program. With such a small team, everyone is important.

Coach Tackett knows that may be the Bulldogs' greatest strength.

"Were nothing without the entire team," he said.

KEY PLAYERS

Tyler Allen, running back/defensive back; Kevin Davina, quarterback/wide receiver/defensive back; Dylan VanNote, running back/defensive back; Derek Samoya, lineman

KEY GAMES

Aug. 23, Orlando Lake Highland Prep

The Bulldogs host one of Orlando’s top private-school programs.

Sept. 6, Ocoee Central Florida Christian

A key matchup of longtime Sunshine State Athletic Conference foes.

Sept. 27, at Orlando Christian Prep

MDCA lost to the Warriors 42-13 last year. The Bulldogs travel to Orlando, looking for revenge.