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.