Fresh off a 5-6 campaign and a 2A playoff birth, the Meeker Bulldogs hope to return to the playoffs once again.

“We were very fortunate to make the playoffs last year and with all the guys coming back, I feel comfortable with these young men and they've done an incredible job of competing,” coach DJ Howell said.

Whenever a team loses their starting quarterback, the rest of the athletes have to pick up the slack. Howell said his team was able to use last year as a learning experience while picking up some wins on the way to a playoff appearance.

This offseason the Bulldogs worked extensively in order to continue the upward trend of success.

“We've done a great job of working hard this offseason,” Howell said. “The kids have done a good job of getting bigger and stronger in the weight room. The players who were playing other sports were dedicated as well.”

As a second-year coach at Meeker, Howell is starting to get through to his players and credits all of their hard work along the way.

“The guys understand what I want from them in terms of how to compete and prepare each week,” Howell said. “Our numbers have been pretty consistent. Throughout 2A getting more than 40 guys is a challenge but we have a high standard if you want to be involved in the program.”

Junior Jacob Martin returns under center for the Bulldogs. Martin is a three-year starter who missed the last four games in 2017 with mono. He led the Bulldogs with 1,278 yards and threw for 11 touchdowns. He also ran for 570 yards and three scores.

“He's very dynamic and can make a lot of plays with his arm and his legs,” Howell said. “The best thing about Jacob is he's very competitive. I feel we are in a good position at quarterback.”

Meeker will feature Caden Wolford at running back. Howell feels he can carry the rock early and often for the Bulldogs. Wolford had a different role as a freshman, only carrying the football six times for 13 yards. He did show some ability to catch the football, recording six receptions for 161 yards and one touchdown.

“Caden worked extensively this offseason,” Howell said. “He looks good every day in practice and has the ability to break of big plays whenever he touches the football. I'm really confident he's a guy who can carry the mail for us.”

JJ Bloomer will be another back the Bulldogs will rely on. As a freshman, Bloomer carried the ball five times for 42 yards. He was able to find the endzone one time in his first year of varsity football.

The Bulldogs started the 2017 campaign as a spread offense, but when the starting quarterback goes down, plans change. With leading receiver Dawson Stansberry returning, the Bulldogs will look to get him involved in their quest for another playoff run. Stansberry had 653 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago.

“With our weapons back, I feel like we can be really successful,” Howell said. “I feel comfortable with Jacob getting Dawson the ball. Dawson is a fast kid and has bought in to the program. I feel like he's only gotten better and expect him to be really productive for us.”

On the offensive line, the Bulldogs return three starting lineman. Jeremy Ellis will be the anchor of the front five. Brendan Alexander has developed into one of the strongest lineman, Howell said. The third returner is Kyle Cousins, who solidifies the interior line.

The defensive line will feature many of the same athletes. Xavier Masquas will start at one of the defensive end positions.

Linebackers Noah Breedlove and JJ Bloomer return as starters.

Jarrett Marks and Dakota Gabbert will help the defensive backfield in the quest for another playoff run.

Meeker's first game is Aug. 24 at home against Luther. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.