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New head coach Jamie Rodgers has Bradford Tornadoes on the verge of undefeated season

Head coach Jamie Rodgers speaks to a few of his players in the Bradford High School weight room. His emphasis on weight training has helped his team become one of the top schools in the state of Florida this season. (Ben Acker/WUFT News)
Head coach Jamie Rodgers speaks to a few of his players in the Bradford High School weight room. His emphasis on weight training has helped his team become one of the top schools in the state of Florida this season. (Ben Acker/WUFT News)

Coach Jamie Rodgers has transformed the Bradford High School football team – which saw its last two seasons end prematurely in the regional semifinals – into a powerhouse program that is tearing through its competition. 

The Tornadoes are currently 9-0 on the season and have outscored their opponents 270-21 in the process. The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) has the Tornadoes ranked No. 9 in the state and first in the “2S” class.

https://youtu.be/WF5nAvhiYro

The talent of the Bradford Tornadoes is undeniable, with several players receiving scholarship offers from top NCAA Division I college football programs. But Rodgers said the preparation by the team during the week is a leading factor in the Tornadoes' success. 

“Our kids like to practice; we’re a good practice team,” Rodgers said. “They take in a lot of information.”

Rodgers began his coaching career in 2006 as the defensive coordinator for Baker County High School in Glen St. Mary, Florida, just outside of Jacksonville. His first head coaching gig was with Suwannee High School in 2012, where he stayed until 2015. Rodgers then had head coaching stints at Baker County (2016-2019) and Cook High School in Adel, Georgia, (2019-2021), before being hired by Bradford in January to serve as the team’s head coach and defensive coordinator.

Although he does not compare his coaching style to that of anyone in particular, Rodgers said he draws inspiration from several college football coaches, including former Texas Christian University head coach Gary Patterson. He said he is also a fan of the work done by Baylor head coach Dave Aranda, who was the defensive coordinator for Louisiana State University when the Tigers won the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship.

“I try to take bits and pieces of everything,” Rodgers said. “Football, all it is, is what we pass around to each other.”

One thing that players have noticed about Rodgers is how good he is at talking with his players and holding them accountable.

“Coach Rodgers is really about what he talks,” said senior defensive back Gavin Cook. “You could be up 40-0, and he’ll still get on you for a simple mistake.”

Senior defensive back Ahman “AC” Covington, who recently received a preferred walk-on offer from the Florida Gators, said that the speeches Rodgers gives have been very helpful to him and his teammates.

“He makes sure we’re always where we need to be,” Covington said.

Rodgers said that he saw the potential of his team early on in his tenure, but a few tweaks were necessary to get the team to where they are right now. One of the main changes was a greater emphasis on strength training.

“The bigger, the faster, the stronger you are, the better player you are,” Rodgers said. “That’s just the way it is. There’s no substitute for that.”

Junior linebacker Chason Clark said that very few of his teammates were working out prior to Rodgers’ arrival, but the environment in the weight room changed once Rodgers got on campus and he began implementing his plan.

“Every day, we came in here and decided we needed to work,” Clark said.

According to Rodgers, Clark is one of the main leaders on this Tornadoes team. Although he may not be the “rah-rah guy” that everyone hears in the classroom or the weight room, he leads by example both on and off the field.

“He works hard every single day, everywhere. Classroom, weight room, out here, so all the kids respect what he does,” Rodgers said.

Along with the leadership provided by Clark and other key players, including Chalil Cummings and Torin Brazell, the team will lean on the experience of players who were on Bradford’s basketball team last season. The same team that won the Class 1A state championship.

“They’ve been in the fire,” Rodgers said. “They know what the playoffs are all about, and I think they’ll be ready when we get there.”

One of those players is senior linebacker Bryson “B9” Bowen, who is a shooting guard for the Tornadoes basketball team. He said that team chemistry is vital if the Tornadoes football team wants to replicate the basketball team’s deep playoff run.

“If we just keep the chemistry together, as always, we’re going to be good,” Bowen said.

Next in the Tornadoes’ path is the Suwannee Bulldogs, a team that currently has a 7-2 record on the season. This game holds more meaning for Rodgers, as he previously coached the Bulldogs from 2012 until 2015.

This will be the final regular season game for the Tornadoes before the team begins its quest for a state championship. But the Tornadoes will be doing so without star running back Manny Covey. Covey, a Cincinnati Bearcats commit, will be out of action after undergoing surgery to repair a broken ankle. 

Rodgers said that Covey has been a “huge factor” in Bradford’s success this season, but the team will lean on junior running back Willie Pollard, who Rodgers said has done well “carrying some of the load” in Covey’s absence.

Friday’s game against Suwannee will take place at Paul Langford Stadium in Live Oak, Florida, at 7:30 p.m. Both teams will find out their opponent for the first round of the state playoffs Sunday at 11 a.m. during the FHSAA’s bracket reveal on YouTube. 

Ben is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.