There’s quite a bit of excitement around the Bell County football team and campus these days.
The school and stadium are undergoing renovations while the Bobcats will be looking to carry over some momentum from a strong finish last year.
“There’s a lot of exciting things going on in the Bell County School System right now and I think everyone’s going to be pleased with the finished product,” Bell County coach Wayne Mills said. “It’s like remodelling a house. It’s kind of bumpy at first and you think you’re never going to get through it, but once it’s done you’re so glad you did it. That’s the way we’re looking at it.
“I think the school is going to look beautiful once everything’s done and our stadium is going to be a real show place when it’s all finished. It’ll be second to none.”
This will be the team’s last season playing on the current grass field, which will be torn out and replace with artificial turf starting in January. They’ll also have a new press box, a new visitors locker room and new fencing all around.
The football team began their work leading into the season with fitness testing on the track Monday.
Current construction, specifically the digging of geothermal wells behind the football stadium and around the baseball field, makes for loud conditions that can make it tough to hold practice. The Bobcat’s usual summer practice field next to Bell Central has been leveled to make way for a new softball field for the high school to use.
“We’ll probably go to Old Bell High a couple days a week and when they get finished digging the wells we’ll go back over to the baseball field like we used to,” Mills said. “We’ve got a couple of options and it really won’t affect us a whole lot.”
The construction also presents somewhat of a blessing for the team. Because of the work being done on the high school students won’t start going to classes until Aug. 26, the week after the season opener.
“Really for us that’s a good thing because it allows us more practice time. Once school starts you have to go after school and the kids get home late. Every coach wants more time to practice with their kids and (starting school later) is going allow us to do that,” Mills added.
On the field, the Bobcats will be looking to improve on last year’s 7-5 record. That team had eight underclassmen that played a lot at key positions of both sides of the ball and only seven seniors. After suffering a pair of early losses, including getting pushed around a bit in a 28-14 loss to Middlesboro, they rallied to post wins over rivals Knox Central and Corbin. They surprised many by hanging with Harlan County in a 23-18 loss to end the regular season and once again battled Louisville Central tough in a 14-11 road loss in the second round of the playoffs.
Four starters will return on the offensive line along with the entire two-deep roster of quarterbacks, running backs and fullbacks. On defense, nine of the team’s 11 leading tackers are back and the Bobcats are also bolstered by Middlesboro transfer Cole Frazier. They’re sights are set squarely on getting back to the top of their district and making a deep run in the postseason.
“You can’t put a substitute on age and that’s what we’re seeing with our kids now. We had a bunch of boys that are now becoming men,” Mills said. “When you’re a 15-year-old playing against an 18-year-old you’re out-manned. Now our kids are 16 and 17 and looking like what an older team is supposed to look like.
“Our kids know they improved by the end of last year and we finished up strong. We’re just trying to take that momentum and what we’ve done in the weight room all winter long and build on that. We’ve got a lot of work to do and as long as our kids understand that we’ll get better each day.”