The Bulldogs open the 2018 season on Aug. 24 at Matanzas.
When the players showed up for the first day of football practice on the morning of Monday, July 30, they were giddy with excitement. The Bulldogs, following seven wins in two years, had an undefeated regular season in 2017. Why not be excited?
As the team filed into the players’ meeting room at Flagler Palm Coast High School, there were smiles ear-to-ear and chatter bouncing off the walls.
Then Bulldogs coach Travis Roland turned off the lights.
The beam of a single projector illuminated the dark room.
On the screen was something even more haunting: footage of FPC’s 28-13 home loss to Orlando Boone in the opening round of last year’s playoffs.
The Bulldogs sat with blank stares as they watched helplessly as the Braves scored three rushing touchdowns on them.
Roland forced his team to relive a 70-yard fumble return and a one-handed pick six.
“Everyone came in all excited,” Roland said. “And then I dropped a bomb on them.”
The point of forcing his players to watch the tape wasn’t to demean them. It was to inspire them, to help them remember that despite an undefeated regular season, the first in school history, they were still fallible — if they failed to learn from their mistakes.
The response in practice was immediate.
“They went out and attacked it, and you could tell that they understood that we’re trying to be different with how we perform,” Roland said. “They accepted the challenge.”
To be a hard-nosed, diverse football team.
Last season, the Bulldogs won nine games in a multitude of ways: with offense, with defense, with special teams, late in the fourth quarter and scratching it out in overtime.
Roland hopes to maintain a similar identity with this season’s team. And he returns most of the roster that helped him do it last year. Dennis Shorter, Marquise Gilbert and Damien Irven enter their senior years as part of one of the strongest, if not the strongest, secondaries in the area. Nelson Paul, the area’s sack leader in 2017, leads a vaunted defensive front. And the Bulldogs will roll out a quarterback who saw a lot of playing time as a sophomore last season.
But Donovan Montoyo, known largely as a run-first QB in 2017, can now throw the football.
Montoyo usually arrives at practice around 8 a.m. — a full hour before practice actually starts — to work on throwing mechanics and his grasp of the playbook with Bulldogs offensive coordinator Matt Johnson.
“Donovan is going to be huge for us,” Roland said. “Anytime you have a quarterback who can complete passes, it gives you ultimate confidence.”
It's something the Bulldogs have gained since Roland's arrival over a year ago. And it didn't shy away when they were forced to relive their darkest moment of 2017.