There’s no two ways about it, last season was a rare rebuilding year for the Bell County Bobcats. They lost five games for the first time since the year 2000, fell to rival Middlesboro for the first time since 1997 and had their impressive streak of district wins snapped at 31 with 41-6 loss at Wayne County.
But folks who think that 7-5 finish was the start of a trend need to think again. Bell County had graduated an especially large senior class and returned very little in the way of varsity experience. They had nine sophomores and three freshman either starting or playing significant snaps and had to deal with some injuries to key players during the season.
They put together a three-game winning streak late in the year and gave playoff nemesis Louisville Central all they wanted in a 14-11 loss in the second round of the playoffs.
“We just had so many injuries last year, but our kids hung in there. Losing to Middlesboro for the first time, getting annihilated at Wayne County, there were times we could have folded but our kids have got a lot of fight in them. They pull for each other and we started playing good defense. I think that’s what turned it,” Bobcat coach Wayne Mills said. “We ended on a good note, even though we lost we gave a good Louisville Central team a good ballgame at their place.”
The story is different heading into 2014. The Bobcats return eight starters on both sides of the ball and welcome in Middlesboro transfer Cole Frazier. The pieces are in place for Bell County to shoot for their seventh district title in eight years, and if that happens they would host the regional championship game and state semifinals as they advance.
“We’ve got a lot of anticipation and a lot of excitement. But we’re still a 7-5 team until we show we’re better than that,” Mills said. “We’re not good enough to overlook anybody on our schedule. We’ve just got to be good football players, come out each week and prepare, take them one at a time and see what happens.”
Senior left tackle Hunter Hurst (6-1, 220) leads an experienced offensive line with juniors Jimmy Kidd (6-1, 260) at left guard, Jacob Sutton (6-0, 220) at center, Casey Cox (5-11, 225) at right guard and All-Stater Nathan Murray (6-8, 330) at right tackle.
“Having that year under their belts is big for them,” Mills said. “I think they’ve improved in the weight room, they’re a year older and the youthfulness is gone to some degree. Those kids move pretty good and get off the football.”
Junior Peyton Collet is back for his third year as the starting quarterback. He threw for nearly 900 yards and eight touchdowns last season and the Bobcats plan to open up the playbook a little more in 2014 to take advantage of the weapons they have.
Frazier brings good size and hands to the tight end position and he’ll be backed up by fellow senior Devon Miller. Outside seniors Hayden Gilbert and Evan Brock are listed as the starters with sophomore Austin Asher also in the mix.
The Bobcats return their top five rushing leaders and will still be primarily a running team with the wishbone as their base formation.
Senior Austin Caldwell led Bell with 815 yards while scoring eight touchdowns last year. Junior Chase Woolum is the other starting running back and topped the squad with 14 touchdowns a year ago. Brock will also see time in the backfield along with speedy sophomore Treyton Humfleet. Senior Corey Swanner will start at fullback with sophomore Nathan Collett providing depth.
“We are blessed with backs. We’re going to give it to whoever has the hot hand,” Mills said. “We’ve got a three-year starter at quarterback back and we’ve got some good wideouts and guys that can catch the ball. We’re just going to try to do what the defense allows us. Hopefully we can have a good balance in our offense and keep people from being able to focus on one thing.”
Bell County’s defense is a bit of a hybrid between the classic Monster 6-2 and a 4-4.
Miller and junior Aaron Jenkins will line up as defensive tackles on the outside with Hurst and Nathan Collett as guards on the inside. Juniors Kyle Lee and Woolum are the outside linebackers with Caldwell also seeing time there. Senior All-Stater Justin Green returns to one inside linebacker spot after leading the team with 122 tackles last year while Swanner and Frazier share time at the other.
Gilbert returns as the starting safety with Humfleet and junior Isaac Muncy at the corners.
“We feel like those linebackers are probably the strength of our team along with the secondary. Justin Green is an anchor on defense and a vocal leader who plays with a lot of heart and is just a tough-nosed kid. Corey Swanner pound-for-pound is probably the strongest kid on our team. He and Cole will rest each other because they both play offense,” Mills said.
Senior Dylan Cox will handle kicking and punting while Gilbert, Woolum and Brock are the primary returners.
The Bobcats open the season on Friday at South Pittsburg, Tenn.
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Bell County Bobcats
|BCHS 2014 Schedule|
|Aug. 22||at South Pittsburg, Tenn.||7:30 p.m.|
vs. Washington Co.
(at Marion Co.)
|Sept. 5||vs. Whitley County||7:30 p.m.|
|Sept. 12||at Middlesboro||7:30 p.m.|
|Sept. 19||vs. Knox Central||7:30 p.m.|
|Sept. 26||vs. Wayne County *||7:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 3||at Casey County*||8 p.m.|
|Oct. 17||at Corbin*||7:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 24||vs. McCreary Central*||7 p.m.|
|Oct. 31||at Harlan County||7:30 p.m.|