The 6-5 record the Hawks produced in 2012 capped a year that began with an improbable win over an NCAA Division Football Championship Series foe and concluded with back-to-back victories against two opponents from the nation’s toughest DII conference that Shorter is now a part of, the Gulf South Conference.
More than anything, however, the historic start left the Hawks with clear knowledge that complacency is not an option.
The Hawks know there is still a lot of work to do and over the next three weeks as they begin the task of getting even better when Shorter opens its spring drills.
“Playing a year in Division II gives you a concrete idea of what you need to do. That’s a big factor,” Shorter head coach Phil Jones said as the Hawks open their 15-day off-season workouts on Monday at Ben Brady Field. “Having that first year under your belt helped us a lot.”
“We know what things worked,” the coach said, “and showed us things we didn’t do and would like to do. We’re trying to get into the mind-set where everyone needs to get better, from the players to the coaching staff.”
Jones said that more than 75 Hawks will dress out for the spring workouts, 10 of which will be in full pads, and wrap up the session on March 30 with an exhibition.
Naturally, it will be the confidence found last fall that will be the Hawks’ inspiration during their March practices, the kind of confidence that resulted in solid performances on both sides of the ball and led to Shorter’s sixth winning season in its eight-year history.
Offensively, Shorter emerged as the top rushing team in the GSC, which produced the 2012 DII national champion in Valdosta State, averaging 269 yards a game.
On the other side of the ball, the Hawks’ newly-revamped defense stood just as tall, yielding just 136 yards a game on the ground and 336 total yards, both which ranked second in the GSC, and became terrors in opposing backfields where they recorded 26 sacks.
Many of those players who had key roles in helping the Hawks kick down the Division II and GSC doors will return this fall when Shorter opens the 2013 season, the final year of its three-year NCAA probationary period, with a road trip to Charleston, S.C., to take on Division I FCS foe Charleston Southern.
But this spring Jones and his coaching staff are focusing on the Hawks who are eager to add to the team’s potential.
“We have a good many young players who didn’t get to play a lot, but who have the talent and potential,” said Jones. “We want to give them a good look.”
To do that, the coach pointed out, the spring drills will see the team focus on more fundamentals and technique by position.
“That’s how your team improves — if the individual improves,” said Jones.
This time a year ago, Shorter followed the same philosophy as the Hawks saw two players who had previously seen little action improve on their skills that paid dividends last fall – fullback Bradley Moon and quarterback Eric Dodson.
Moon wound up carrying the ball 188 times — the third most if Shorter history — for 1,021 yards and nine touchdowns, and the yardage he ate up made him just the second player to surpass the 1,000-yard mark, joining former All-American A.J. Cooley.
While Moon became an inside threat, Dodson showed he could run with the ball in his first season behind center gaining 571 yards on 166 carries for a team-high 10 touchdowns and becoming a dual threat using his arm as he wound up throwing for a single-season record 972 yards by completing 48 of 104 passes (both marks are the third best in a season) and six touchdowns.
All told and lending credence to his versatility, Dodson finished the season with 1,543 total offensive yards which was the second most in Shorter history (Cooley gained 1,558 in 2008) and was the second most this season in the GSC.
On Monday, Dodson will no doubt begin becoming an even bigger threat when he begins his junior season this fall, but Moon’s senior campaign will be put on hold this spring as he shifts his attention to the track where he was an All-American for Shorter’s national, championship squad.
Of bigger importance this spring, Jones said, will be seeing who is ready to step into the offensive playing picture, especially along the line where the Hawks will be without the services of five veterans who will not practice because of injuries.
“It’s a great time for the younger linemen to work on their fundamentals,” said Jones, “and give us the depth we need.”
“And defensively,” the coach added, “we’ll continue to work on the new defense we put in last year. We had a good defensive year last fall but we know we can be better.”
While the Hawks will work on their own individual techniques and fundamentals, there is one unit where special emphasis will take place — the special teams.
“When you have an open field, you’ll see teams use it to their advantage,” said Jones, “and the teams in our conference know how to do that. We have to improve on what we do.”
All the while, Jones added, the coaching staff has to make sure that the spring workouts are held with limited contact.
“We can’t beat them up,” the coach said. “There’s got to be a balance.”