Freeport opens new season growing from experience

FREEPORT, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Looking around Freeport before Friday's preseason classic against Bay, there were a lot of smiles.

QB Keane Neal and RB Brandon Siples line up in the first quarter of Freeport's preseason classic against Bay.

It's not hard to understand why. Everybody is undefeated, everybody is excited to start the season, and for the Bulldogs specifically, a mix of experienced and new starters who have learned from last year provides reason for optimism for head coach Shaun Arntz.

Now in his third season as head coach and fourth in charge of the offense, Arntz has had a different quarterback each time. This year, senior Keane Neal gets the nod.

The preseason game showcased a high-scoring offense. Neal threw two first quarter touchdowns, one to lead returning rusher Brandon Siples (35 yards) and another to Bryer Blount (12 yards), then added two more on the ground in a 34-33 victory over the Tornadoes.

Arntz's confidence in his QB on the practice field was backed up under the lights.

"He has a lot of promise," the head coach said. "He has a really good arm. He's really intelligent. Deceptive athleticism. If he does everything that we're asking him to do, and we're not asking anything more than what he's capable of doing, he should have a tremendous year. He's just got to stay focused, locked in, and do all the little things right day in, day out, not just on Friday."

While teams in college and the NFL rely heavily on the quarterback to command to offense, that's not how Arntz runs the Bulldogs. While Neal is relied on to be perceptive and make plays, the staff does its best to take pressure off the players.

"It's a little different, it's circumstantial with the kind of offense you're running," Arntz explained. "I'm not a big fan of huddles because you put a lot of pressure on somebody. All the kids have to look into one direction. So I prefer the no huddle style, that doesn't put as much pressure on the quarterback with communication and all that kind of stuff."

Among the top returners is running back Brandon Siples, who scored twice Friday night, including the game winner with under five minutes to play. Three offensive and defensive linemen return, along with a defensive core Arntz says started the majority of games last season.

Last year's team went 3-7, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Three losses came by just one possession. While Friday's comeback, late two-point conversion victory won't count towards the official record, it's an encouraging start than emphasizes growth from experience.

"We always want to learn from the bad ones and grow from that and the good ones, put those behind us real quick as well and build confidence and momentum from that. The guys that are coming back that got that experience last year, what we want to see now is that they're not going through it for the first time. Now when they make a mistake, it should be easier to shrug it off and move on to the next play."

Freeport opens the regular season at Maclay Friday August 23, playing the first three weeks on the road (at Holmes, at Pike Liberal Arts) before the home opener in week four against Walton.

Copyright 2019 WJHG. All rights reserved.