Listening to Southern coach Buck Gardner talk about his football team's chances this season reminds one of a fairy tale.
"Do I have any size?" asked Gardner, repeating a question asked of him. "My offensive line is like the seven dwarfs and my quarterback is Snow White."
No, Gardner isn't Walt Disney. And he's far from expecting a Cinderella season -- not with just three returning starters and as many returning seniors overall.
Nor is he expecting near-miracles, like that performed by his new assistant, Tyrone Neal, who led the Bulldogs' wrestling team to a runner-up finish in the Class 2A-1A state tournament.
He is, however, hoping that some of that winning enthusiasm will rub off, and that the Bulldogs can improve on last year's 4-6 season rather than fall backward toward the 2-8 record of 1989.
IfGardner can retain most of the 60 kids who turned out for the first day of practice, he can reach his goal of having a 30-player varsity roster, which translates into much-needed depth.
"We don't have a lot of depth, so there will be a few guys who will have to go both ways," said Gardner, who is entering his 16th season as mentor of the Bulldogs' program.
Running out of the pro-set offense, the Bulldogswill build their attack around the experience of junior quarterback Troy Dennis, the backfield of seniors Andy Dawson and Curtis Holland.
Dawson, Holland and Dennis also are expected to make big contributions in the Bulldogs' defensive backfield, leading Southern's wide-tackle scheme.
Joining those three is two-way tackle David Sisas. Gardner considers this speedy and agile 6-foot-1, 200-pounder among his most improved players.
"I think he must have gone to just about every camp that he could make during the summer," said Gardner. "He'sbigger, stronger and faster than last year."
Players like senior linemen Jesse Marks and Joe Conte show promise, as does junior defensive back Jayme Block and newcomer sophomore defensive backs Jamar Mullen and Wayne Small. Joe McCafferty is Dennis' backup at quarterback.
Gardner has plenty of ideas for several players, but won't see the fruits of his labor until he can see how those players respond under game pressure.
The Bulldogs' Sept. 6 opener at Calvert County's Calvert High School, scheduled for 7:30 p.m., should give Gardner an appraisal of his club.
Calvert finished in the dungeon of the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference with a 1-9 record and is under first-year coach Jim Chaney.
It the Bulldogs pull off their first victory of the season, they won't have much time to savor it with games against Maryland Scholastic Association C Conference Tri-champion Severn and Class 2A state champion Wilde Lake on the horizon.
. . . in brief
School nickname: Bulldogs
School colors: Blue and gold
Name of field/stadium: Wingate Field
Address: 4400 Solomon's Island Road, Harwood, Md. 20776
Phone number: 867-7100
Principal: Don Buchanan
Athletic director: Thomas Albright
Cheerleading adviser: Bonnie Pifer
Marching band director: Rob Stojakovich
School enrollment: 900
League/classification: 3A-2A; 2A