Thousands have tried, but few teams in the history of developmental football have risen to the top as quickly as the Middle Tennessee Bulldawgs. Still less than one year old, the Bulldawgs are 23-0 and have won championships in two different leagues. Now, they’re gearing up to play for their first national title.
“It’s been eight or nine short months,” Bulldawgs owner Ricky Prochaska told Developmental Football USA. “It happened so fast. It’s kind of unreal to get that much success that fast.”
The nationally-known, nationally-ranked Bulldawgs have already secured a spot in the National Football Events Bowl Weekend AAA Championship Game and they will head south to Deland, Fla., looking to bring home their biggest trophy yet on the weekend of Jan. 13.
“We’re just trying to not take it for granted, because it might be the only one we ever make,” Prochaska said. “I feel like we can get back for many years to come, but we’re just going to take it one day at a time.”
Dozens of opportunities to play in national bowl games surfaced for the Bulldawgs after Prochaska issued an open challenge in July to any and all interested teams. Winning two championships and having an almost flawless first year hasn’t made the target on their backs any smaller, either. However, playing two seasons per year limits the number of open dates, so the Bulldawgs had to be selective with which bid to accept.
“The games in Florida have been going for like 20 years, so I’m going to go to that one,” Prochaska said. “National Football Events Bowl Week, that’s where everyone has been going for years.”
Following the national championship game in January, the Bulldawgs will have less than one month to prepare for their inaugural season in the Tennessee Football Alliance, which begins league play in February.
“For an opening game – after we win this national championship – if anyone in the Top 10 wants some, come get some,” Bulldawgs head coach Blaine Boone told Developmental Football USA
This coming weekend, the Bulldawgs will play in The Freedom Bowl against the Charlotte Colts, which are nationally ranked by multiple outlets. This is Middle Tennessee’s last scheduled game before traveling to the Sunshine State to test their mettle against another one of the nation’s finest.
“The Colts give us a chance to play another ranked team,” Prochaska said. “We’re not real worried about it because we’re hyped up and ready to play some football.”
Middle Tennessee is led by a stingy defense that has only allowed 57 points, ever, and pitched 14 shutouts along the way.
“They’ve not only been the backbone, but the main focus on our team,” Boone said. “We play maul ball up front – our front four we call ‘Death Valley.’
“They’re in the quarterback’s face all game. Our secondary unit we call ‘Air Traffic Control.’ I guarantee they had more pick-sixes than any team in the entire country and that’s a fact. They’re all about that life. They try to beat the offense. They literally try to score more points than the other team’s offense, they are greedy. Their nickname is ‘Team Greedy.’ They really think that too. That’s the mentality they have is a greedy mentality.”
Offensively, the Bulldawgs have averaged more than 33 points per game over the 23-game stretch.
“We like big numbers,” Prochaska said. “We don’t do third downs. We don’t ever want to have a third down. We want to score every time we get it. We scored 86 points in Hopkinsville. We almost hit 100. We were upset we didn’t hit 100.”
Quarterback Cassius Barnes has been a field general for the Bulldawgs since joining the team prior to the start of the summer season. Barnes was virtually unstoppable along the road to Middle Tennessee’s second title in 2017.
“The first couple of games, he was a little shaky,” Boone said. “He ended up getting hurt Week 2 and came back Week 6 and threw five touchdown passes. He’s broken our franchise record since he’s been back. He’s had a minimum of four per game since he’s been back. He’s had 30-plus in the last six games. He through four, five or six touchdowns a game. As long as our offensive line is healthy and good to protect, he’s a star on offense for sure.”
For many teams around the country, a player can just show up and play, but it’s not as easy for just anyone to see the field on a roster as deep as the Bulldawgs.
“Right before summer started, we had close to 100 players at practice,” Boone said. “The more the season went on and the more that some guys realized they weren’t going to get the playing time they wanted because of their lack of athletic ability, the numbers went down, but we still had 30 to 50 every time.
“There’s no real secret to it, my guys are hungry and want to win a championship. You don’t win championships without practice. Keep your mind on the big picture and not all the small stuff they have going on outside of it, it all works itself out. A lot of my guys have been in this situation before and know what it takes to accomplish this, just take it one step at a time.”