HITCHCOCK — A very young Hitchcock Bulldogs football team endured harsh on-the-job training during last season’s 2-8 campaign, an experience that could translate into a more successful résumé for coach Craig Smith’s squad in 2014.

While Hitchcock returns just seven seniors on the roster, the Bulldogs will have 16 starters back (eight on both the offense and defense), an asset that will prepare them for their bump up the ladder to District 14-3A, Division I.

“Our former district (13-2A, Division II) was nothing to sneeze at,” Smith said. “Any time you’re in a district with the eventual state champion (East Bernard) is never easy. Now, we’re in with a Hempstead team that has a lot of speed, and Edna and Rice Consolidated are always tough. All we can do is continue doing what we’ve done all spring, which is get stronger every day.”

The Bulldogs will have the bulk of their strength on the offensive line, where senior Carlos Alvarez returns for his third year in the starting lineup. Fellow senior Victor Sanchez also returns on the line, which Smith feels will be vastly improved.

“I think our line will be as strong as anyone in the district,” he said. “We’re going to match up well with anyone we face.”

Junior running back Nathaniel Walker is one of the main beneficiaries of that line, as he will be the featured weapon in Smith’s Slot-T attack. One of the positives of having a wealth of youth returning on the offense is that it will also allow Smith to further enhance the unit — there are plans to expand more of a no-huddle scheme.

Sophomore Michael Parker will open the season at quarterback. He has shown continued improvement through his work playing 7-on-7, establishing a rapport with his receivers.

A year’s experience will carry over on the defensive side of the ball, where the Bulldogs allowed 30 or more points eight times last season, including five outings in which Hitchcock gave up at least 40 points. The biggest question could be in the secondary, where Smith will have two sophomores in the starting lineup.

The Bulldogs will also have an advantage in the kicking game, where junior punter Dustin St. Clair comes off a season where he was named to the All-District Second Team. St. Clair also will see time as a running back and receiver.

“I feel pretty good about where we are now,” Smith said. “We’re very young, but these kids went through the fire last year and are the better for it. We’re looking forward to what lies ahead for us. We’re moving up into a bigger level in Division I, but I feel we’re up to the challenge.”

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