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BY THE NUMBERS

KAYLOR SULLIVAN Quarterback, senior, Fort Bragg High

2014: 8-3 record, 3,038 yards, 67.0 completion percentage, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions.

2015: 3-0 record, 1,051 yards, 60.5 completion percentage, 10 touchdowns, four interceptions.

Note: Sullivan played nine games in 2014; 2015 stats are through the first three games.


Fort Bragg football players can spot the warning signs by now. The Timberwolves aren’t bigger or stronger than most of the teams they play, but they move faster. A lot faster. And when the Fort Bragg offense gets rolling, it’s only so long before the other guys start to flag. Their movements slow down, their breathing becomes more labored.

“If you see our games, honestly, when we’re hustling to the ball, you’ve got people on the defense walking, on their knees, can barely stand,” senior quarterback Kaylor Sullivan said.

“The pass rush will start to barely come,” added Sam Perkins, Sullivan’s left tackle. “Sometimes the ends won’t even make it to me before the ball gets off, because it’s coming out so fast.”

In all likelihood, Fort Bragg is the most exciting high school team you’ve never seen. Unless you travel to the far reaches of the Redwood Empire, or happened to be at the Timberwolves’ victory over El Molino at Windsor High last Saturday, they are like an exotic tribe you hear about only in legend.

And those legends are growing. The team drew wide attention last year when Sullivan threw eight touchdown passes against Encina Prep in one half, setting a California state record and tying a national mark. Fort Bragg shared the NCL I league championship with St. Helena.

The Timberwolves averaged 30.7 points and 402.9 yards per game in 2014 despite resting key starters in the second half of several blowout wins. This year Fort Bragg brought back every skill-position starter from a year ago. So far the offense has averaged 36.7 points and 435 yards per game while jumping to a 3-0 start.

Fort Bragg’s explosive offense goes back to a decision made by coach Roy Perkins (Sam’s uncle) in the 2014 offseason. Perkins coached on Jack Moyer’s successful staff from 1981 to 2003. For most of that time, the Georgia-Pacific Lumber Mill dominated the Fort Bragg economy, and Moyer and Perkins could always rely on a handful of beefy blue-collar kids to dominate the line of scrimmage.

Those days are gone. Perkins had noticed that his kids were getting smaller and faster relative to other schools. His solution was to go with a no-huddle offense, a strategy he had always hated to contend with as a defensive coach. He knew he had the receivers to execute the hurry-up.

Most important, he had the quarterback.

A bit of a freak

The first time Perkins laid eyes on Sullivan after returning to Fort Bragg following nine years coaching at Arbuckle, in Colusa County, it was on the baseball field. Watching Sullivan throw a baseball, the coach was immediately struck by his motion, his mechanics and his velocity.

“You stand behind him and see the throws he makes, and I could see as a freshman he was able to get the ball out in a unique way,” Perkins said. “He has a natural-born gift to throw the football. And he has tremendous accuracy. … He has built it at camps. I’ve had him work with quarterback gurus, really high-level coaches. But when he arrived to them, they said he’s a bit of a freak.”

Perkins was taking a big gamble abandoning his usual mix of power formations, I-back sets and split-back veer plays. The new system would require complete buy-in from the players, and would look foolish if it failed. It didn’t take Perkins long to see he had made the right move.

BY THE NUMBERS

KAYLOR SULLIVAN Quarterback, senior, Fort Bragg High

2014: 8-3 record, 3,038 yards, 67.0 completion percentage, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions.

2015: 3-0 record, 1,051 yards, 60.5 completion percentage, 10 touchdowns, four interceptions.

Note: Sullivan played nine games in 2014; 2015 stats are through the first three games.

“The spring before we installed it, I remember telling my assistants we might throw the ball 20 times a game,” he said. “Then in spring ball I watched Kaylor throw, and I said we might throw 25 times a game. Then we had a camp in June in Fort Bragg, with a lot of good teams coming in, and after that I told them we might throw 50 times a game. I was watching the kid do things I had no idea he’d be capable of doing.”

Sullivan brings the two basic qualities that define most great quarterbacks: ample natural ability and a burning work ethic.

Sullivan is 6-foot-2 and weighs about 190 pounds. His brother was a 6-5, 305-pounder who played college football, and Perkins thinks Kaylor will fill out further. He has a lively arm, and he made it stronger this past offseason.

“His completion percentage is actually a little down from last year,” Perkins said. “The reason is a lot of dropped passes. I think the ball is coming out so much harder that kids are having a little trouble catching it.”

Sullivan’s top receiver, junior Lucas Triplett, said his quarterback has gotten much faster afoot since last season, too, thanks to extensive speed training. Sullivan said it was a priority for him. Perkins used to tease him that he ran like “a bubble going through honey.” The bubble’s a lot faster now.

Three seconds to deliver the ball

With all of his physical ability, though, the challenges of the Fort Bragg offense are primarily mental.

“The key is he is able go through multiple progressions in a short amount of time,” Perkins said. “It’s something he’s just very good at. This system won’t work with an average quarterback.”

Perkins’ offense is simple in that it doesn’t use a large number of plays. The complexity is in the processing it demands of the quarterback. Plays come in from the sidelines, and Perkins doesn’t even know where the ball will go. There is rarely a primary receiver. It’s up to Sullivan to scan as many as five routes and get the ball to the open man in a matter of seconds.

According to Triplett, it’s another area in which Sullivan has improved.

“His choices are 10 times better — well, not 10 times. It’s not like he was bad last year,” Triplett said. “But he’s stronger at it. He knows where to put the ball every down.”

The true lethality of the Fort Bragg offense is in its pace. Perkins generally wants the ball out of Sullivan’s hand in less than three seconds. The Timberwolves will strike with deep routes if you allow it, but they thrive on quick slants and outs. They can run the ball with a lead, but as Perkins said, “The real short (passing) stuff is basically our running game.”

It’s all done without pause. Fort Bragg hasn’t huddled since 2013.

A typical high school offense, Perkins said, will run about 45 plays per game. When Sullivan was on the field last year, the Timberwolves averaged just under 70, which according to the coach was second only to St. Bernard’s in the North Coast Section.

It’s effective, and it’s fun.

“When you run 65 plays a game, the goal is to play the equivalent of five quarters of football every game,” Perkins said. “So the kids get to play more games, which they love.”

The town has the murmur

It requires a level of conditioning that most high school teams don’t approach, though. The Fort Bragg linemen start practice with a one-mile run. Their main job on Fridays isn’t particularly taxing, since pass blocking for quick routes is quick work. But watch those 8-yard Timberwolves passes over the middle, and you’ll inevitably see linemen hustle into the frame to block downfield.

Most of Fort Bragg’s conditioning is accomplished sneakily. Take the tempo drill, which the Timberwolves run twice a week.

“It’s incredible to watch the first time,” Perkins said. “We start at one end of the field, and we run offense versus defense at game conditions. We run as many plays as we can run in a 25-minute period. So we’re basically conditioning for 25 minutes, though we’re not focused on that. And during that 25-minute period, we’re running as many plays as we do in a game. So twice a week, we condition by playing a full game.”

Of course, none of this would be impressive if it didn’t translate to success on the field, but it has. Most opposing coaches peg the Timberwolves as the team to beat in the NCL I this year. The playoffs will be brutal with Cardinal Newman, and perhaps Marin Catholic, dropping down to Division 4. But Fort Bragg is standing tall among small school public schools.

The neighbors have noticed. Friday, the Timberwolves open the NCL I regular season by hosting Clear Lake, in a game that was moved from Lakeport because of devastation caused by the Valley fire. The stands will almost certainly be packed.

“The whole town really has kind of that murmur, like they kind of know this might be special,” Sam Perkins, the lineman, said. “Random older guys who played before come up to me, I don’t know who they are, and they’re kind of asking me questions about the team.”

Sam knows how deeply ingrained football is on the Mendocino coast. His uncle played with Sullivan’s dad. Their grandfathers played together before that.

“It makes you want to win that much more,” Perkins said. “My grandma, she’s 93 and she still comes to watch games. I want to make her proud.”

The mill may be gone, but football is thriving in Fort Bragg.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @Skinny_Post.