There’s no denying the competitiveness and popularity of high school football within the state of Florida. Year-in and year-out, talented players from around the state will sign their letters of intent to play for universities across the nation. The state houses some of the most successful high school programs in the country, with The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida, as a prime example.
With 11 state championships, 32 district championships and six state runner-up finishes, the Bolles Bulldogs have been a dominant force over the years. Former head coach Corky Rogers set the tone when he joined the program in 1989. Rogers guided the Bulldogs to 10 state championships during his tenure before retiring in March 2017. Rogers stands as the winningest coach in Florida high school football history (465-84-1) and holds multiple honors including inductions into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame and National High School Hall of Fame.
His successor, however, is no stranger to the stage. Head coach Wayne Belger followed Rogers to Bolles in 1989 and served as an assistant before taking over the program this season. While it’s no small task to replace a coach of Rogers’ pedigree, Belger says it’s been a smooth transition. Meanwhile Chris Verlander, color-commentator for Bolles Football radio broadcasts since the late 1990’s, has followed the Bulldogs throughout the transition. “Coach Belger has done a terrific job,” says Verlander. “It’s an exciting program and they do things the right way.”
Players leading the way
While great coaching has guided the Bulldogs, the team has no shortage of talent. Led by senior quarterback Josiah Johnson, the Bulldogs offense has been difficult to stop. With the departure of star QB Mac Jones to the University of Alabama, question marks surrounded the position. Yet, coach Belger says Johnson has stepped up and played well for the team. His solid season has even earned him a scholarship to the University of Massachusetts.
— Josiah Johnson (@JosiahJohnsonQB) November 1, 2017
Aside from the quarterback position, the Bulldogs have received heavy production in multiple areas. Senior offensive linemen Nick Lewis and Orlando Heggs have led the charge up front. Their tenacious play has wreaked havoc on opposing defensive linemen. Lewis recently committed to Washington State University, while Heggs has pledged to Colorado State University.
Meanwhile, junior wide receiver Chris Sanders has been the go-to playmaker for the offense. Sanders has consistently come through in crucial situations, including a game-clinching touchdown catch against district rival Bishop Kenny in the final seconds.
— Brent Martineau (@BrentASJax) October 14, 2017
Additionally, senior tight end Mason Yost has been a major contributor for the team, both offensively and defensively. Particularly, Yost says he’s been more involved in the passing game as the season progressed. Yost is committed to play at Liberty University next year. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are also led defensively by senior lineman Rushton Roberts, who is committed to Colorado State University.
Following the restructuring of districts across the state, Bolles would compete in District 4-5A, which includes powerhouse Trinity Christian, Ponte Vedra, Bishop Kenny, Westside and Terry Parker. The Bulldogs would finish the 2017 regular season with a 8-2 record, with losses at the hands of Ponte Vedra and Ridge Community in Davenport, Florida.
Their solid regular season would propel the Bulldogs into the playoffs, setting up a first-round matchup against district foe Trinity Christian in region 1-5A. The two teams squared-off early in the regular season, with Bolles ultimately awarded the victory due to Trinity’s use of an ineligible player. The rematch, however, would prove to be epic. Trinity would outlast the Bulldogs in triple overtime, ending Bolles’ season at 8-3.
— Florida HS Football (@FlaHSFootball) November 11, 2017
While the Bulldogs would fall just short of another playoff run, the future is bright. Even with the departure of the legendary Corky Rogers, the program has shown it will continue to succeed under the direction of head coach Wayne Belger.
Listen to the full interview with coach Belger here.