For some time people around Jay have been talking about the 2017 season, as both the senior class and underclassmen saw success in the preceding years.

That year is now, as the 2017-18 Jay Bulldogs stand at the beginning of the football season.

“I think our expectations are set high this year," Coach Warren Kirk said. "We have a lot of returning seniors and lot of returning players.

With 14 seniors on the roster, with at least eight part of the starting lineup, Kirk said many have experienced significant minutes on the field since their sophomore seasons.

“I expect them to lead the way [and] set the example," Kirk said. "It is time for these guys to have some success.

"They have been beat up on the last three years and we have to bring everything we have but can turn it around this year."

As his players take the field, Kirk sees the benefit of having an experienced team.

“Having these guys that are older set the tone in practice and in game is nice to have," Kirk said. "It is great to have a big group of seniors for once. We are going to be better off because of them."

Kirk believes the seniors will not only impact the team this year, but in future seasons to come.  

“If we can turn this thing around this year with this group of seniors the underclassmen can see what it takes to win,” Kirk said. “They will learn the hard work, dedication and getting after it everyday in practice.

“We have been a lot more demanding in practice getting after each other. Competing against each other. The kids are older and more mature now. I think that makes a big difference."

No longer a rookie head coach, Kirk believes he's learned a lot in his first year.

“This summer I would go back and look at stuff and get mad at myself," Kirk said. "I would I think I should have done this or I should have that. But that is part of never being a head coach before.

"Now I have a year under my belt and I learned a lot last year. Turn around and use it to our advantage this year. Just having that year I learned a lot last year."

Depth of experience

For the Bulldogs, the depth of experience begins with senior Gabe Simpson, the quarterback for this year's team.

Simpson doesn't look far for his understudy - his younger brother Daylon Simpson.

“Quarterback wise we are even better this year," Kirk said. "Daylon may come in and play quarterback at times and Gabe may slide out to wide receiver."

The Simpson brothers bring different skills to the table, Kirk said.

"Gabe is big body type quarterback and a down hill type runner. He throws the ball deep really well," he said. "Daylon is a scat-back type quarterback. He is elusive and hard to tackle. He throws the short ball very well and we are working on his arm strength.

"We have different packages we can put in. When we do we can move Gabe outside at receiver and you are 6-5 on one side and 6-6 on the other. Give teams a formation that is hard to match up with.”

Other depth comes in the offensive line, which Kirk said, may be the best the Bulldogs have had in several seasons. 

“Up front we may be as good as we have been since I have been here," Kirk said. "John Culver is the bell cow up there. He is a senior and the leader of the group."

Other offensive linemen expected to play include sophomore Kobe Sixkiller at center, senior Zach Carroll, sophomore Cole Oswalt and senior Levi Sanford.

Sanford has played tight end for the Bulldogs in the past, but the season will move to the offensive line.  

“Levi is an unselfish kid he has always been a tight end but has slid over to that tackle spot," Kirk said. "He has been doing a great job for us there. It speaks volumes about Levi.

"It is not easy to move from a skill to a lineman position. We are going to be a lot better team because of it."

Depth among all players

The depth continues, Kirk said, by having at least four other players with the ability to stand in as needed. 

At running back, the Bulldogs will miss returning starter senior Stormy Taylor, who is still recovering from a knee injury from basketball season.

“We will get Stormy back soon," Kirk said. "But we have three or four guys that can carry the ball back there and we will be fine until he comes back."

Those players include seniors Trader Osburn, and Kobe Budder along with sophomore Zach Coy. Senior Keng Vang could also see some action in the backfield.

Wide receiver is another position that Kirk said is loaded with talent and experience. 

“We have several experienced players on the team that are some pretty big playmakers,” said Kirk.

Those players include seniors Brenden Ryan, Jaden Shotpouch, Dalton Tanner and Keng Vang. Add to the mix sophomores Daylon Simpson, Brody Winfield and Weston Welch and Kirk said the Bulldogs are in good shape.

“Brenden is 6-6, a big wide out and has some of the best hands I have seen on a high school level," Kirk said. "Jaden came on last year and we are expecting bigger and better things from him.

"Dalton is a kid that has a lot of speed. Spread the ball out and get it to five or six kids and let them go make plays. Brody will be an inside outside receiver he is going to be able to help us as well."

Defensive line

Kirk believes the experience and talent will also be on display in the secondary.

“As far as defense. We have a very talented secondary starting with Gabe at free safety he is going to play defense this year," Kirk said. "Shotpouch, Vang, Daylon Simpson - those guys in the secondary are very good players."

Kirk also sees improvement in the linebacker position, which has lacked depth and quality in the past. 

Those starters will be Osburn, Budder, Ryan, Sanford and Coy. Then a group of sophomores will see playing time at linebacker include Winfield, Welch and Kazdion Mount.

The defensive line, Kirk said, will include junior Hunter King, sophomore Marcus Summerfield and Culver.

“Hunter, Marcus and John are going to be defensive monsters for us front," Kirk said. "Sixkiller and Oswalt will give us good depth. These sophomores have grown up and gives us depth."

Kirk is looking forward to this season.

“There has been hope that this year would be the one that Jay would turn things around," Kirk said. "The sophomore group is a year old. Most are 16 or becoming 16 soon. That is a big thing."

A look forward

The Bulldog's schedule is competitive this year. 

“Schedule wise it is a tough schedule," Kirk said. "We are opening up against Verdigris. They are going to be a good game.

"We come back and get Vinita and Grove in two rival games back-to-back at home. That is going to be good for us."

Following those games, the team will take on Gravette, Arkansas. Then enter district play, which Kirk said, is one of the toughest in Class 3A.

"We are going to have to show up each Friday night. Get some wins and make the playoffs," Kirk said. "We think we can go out this year and beat everyone on the schedule show up and play hard nosed football. These guys are up for the challenge.”