Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Tough Act to Follow for Valdosta's O'Brien -- His Own

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Tough Act to Follow for Valdosta's O'Brien -- His Own

Article excerpt

Valdosta coach Mike O'Brien had a tough act to follow last year

when he had to step into the Wildcats' head-coaching job after

the sudden death of legendary coach Nick Hyder.

But the former Valdosta assistant may have a tougher act to

follow this year, and he won't have as many tools with which to

handle it.

Last season, O'Brien led the Wildcats to a 13-2 record and into

the Class AAAA state title game, their first since they won

their 22nd Georgia crown in 1992. Admittedly, a 45-24 shelling

by Brookwood in the championship contest was less than a perfect

ending to an otherwise storybook season, but it seemed the

Valdosta tradition was alive and well under the new coach.

This year may be another story. The defense will be tough

again, but the heart of the offense -- quarterback Dusty Bonner

and running back Nate Rogers (1,252 rushing yards) -- is gone,

as is most of the offensive line.

"I'd have to say our biggest question is on the offensive

side," O'Brien said. "You don't like to think that way, but it

[the defense carrying the offense early on] is always in the

back of your mind in situations like this."

The biggest question on offense is at quarterback, where

Bonner's passing (1,505 yards), running and leadership will be

sorely missed.

The heir apparent is senior Randy Arnold, who at 5 feet 9 and

165 pounds doesn't have Bonner's size but does have a lot of

running ability. In that respect, he has been compared to

previous Wildcats quarterbacks Kareem Wilson and Steve Everson,

both scramblers.

The question is, can he pass? Arnold hasn't had much of a

chance to prove himself -- he only saw spot duty in games that

had long since been decided by the time he got in as a backup to

two-year starter Bonner.

"I think he has the range Dusty had, but he may not be as

accurate," O'Brien said.

Arnold had what O'Brien termed a good spring, and barring

injury, he's got the starting job, at least for Friday night's

opener against McEachern in Powder Springs.

Waiting in the wings is junior Frank Gatlin, another

inexperienced quarterback who O'Brien said may also see action

at running back this year. …

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