Zephyr Bulldogs in total rebuild for 2021 football season

Mike Lee
Special to the Bulletin
Zephyr's Orin Kern runs with the ball during a 2019 game.

The Zephyr Bulldogs lost eight seniors from last year’s football team that finished 1-8. Entering this season, only two players with varsity experience return, and half of Zephyr’s 14-man roster are freshmen.

“We’re in a total rebuild,” said third-year Zephyr coach Jeremy Phillips, 5-15 so far with the six-man Bulldogs. “We’re going to try to rebuild this thing. We’re low on numbers right now, but we have 30 boys from the sixth grade through the eighth grade.

“When the sixth graders are freshmen, we should be back to being competitive. But it’s going to take some patience.”

Phillips has overseen some successful programs before. He took Jayton to the state semifinals in 2007 and Rochelle to the state quarterfinals in 2015 when, coincidentally, the Hornets lost to Zephyr.

The Bulldogs lost in the state semifinals in 2015 — their farthest playoff run since they lost in the state final in 1988 to Fort Hancock — but they haven't had a playoff win since 2017.

Zephyr’s two returning starters from last year are Jayden Millican, a 6-foot, 175-pound tailback and linebacker; and Ethan Gowin, a 5-foot-11, 165-pound running back and linebacker. Both are juniors; the Bulldogs have no seniors this season.

“We’ll lean heavily on those two guys,” Phillips said of Millican and Gowin. “Not having any seniors is a bad thing, but the good thing is that they’ll all be back next year. Plus, we should drop to (Class 1A) Division II next year in the UIL realignment. Right now, we’re the smallest school in the state (with an enrollment of 60) that’s playing Division I.

“We have three other juniors that didn’t play last year. They have solid potential, and they’ll give us five juniors.”

The juniors returning to the program are linemen Corbin Brown and Jacob Nixon, along with Corey Mayes, who could play in the line or at running back on offense and in the line or at linebacker on defense. Waggoner Shelton, a guard and defensive lineman, is another possibility in the line.

Bransen Bumgardner, a freshman move-in from Wyoming, is the projected starting quarterback. Christian Beard, another freshman, will play a utility role as a lineman, running back and linebacker.

Even with just 14 total players, Phillips hopes to play both a varsity and JV schedule this season.

“We’ll have a JV, even if we only have seven players and even six,” Phillips said. “If those freshmen have to stand on the sideline and don’t play in the varsity games, they won’t come back and play next year. If they have to play against older players on the varsity and get beat up or hurt, they won’t come back and play next year.

“So we’re going to do everything we can to play a JV schedule.”

Back to the varsity, the Bulldogs compete in District 15-1A Division I with perennial state power Jonesboro, 10-2 last year; Lometa, 7-3 last year; and Evant, 5-2 last year because of COVID.

“I’ve heard Evant has similar numbers to what we have,” Phillips said. “We’re just looking to get better each week.”

Zephyr lost via the 45-point rule in six of its eight losses last year, when the Bulldogs averaged 21.4 points per game and allowed 42.5. The Bulldogs lost their three district games by an average of 54-7. Zephyr’s lone win last year was a 51-6 mercy-rule decision over Paint Rock.

2021 Zephyr football schedule

Date                Opponent                               Time

Aug. 27           at Sidney                                 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 3             Veribest                                  7:30 p.m.

Sept. 10           Stephenville Faith-x               7:30 p.m.

Sept. 17           Blanket                                   7:30 p.m.

Sept. 24           at Paint Rock                          7:30 p.m.

Oct. 1              at Cherokee                             7:30 p.m.

Oct. 8              Ranger                                    7:30 p.m.

Oct. 15            at Lometa*                              7:30 p.m.

Oct. 22            at Jonesboro*                          7:30 p.m.

Oct. 29            Evant*                                     7:30 p.m.

Nov. 5             Open

*District 15-1A Division I games

x-at Morgan Mill