LOG MOUNTAIN — Bell County enters the 2012 season in a familiar position. The Bobcats are the clear favorites in Class 3A’s District 4 as they’ve won 27 straight game against district foes, a streak that dates back to the 2006 playoffs which was also the last time Bell lost to any team from the Mountains.
“We love the record of having it, but we just take things one game at a time. The key with us is to go and compete and play Bell County football like we’re accustomed to doing,” second year Bobcat head coach Wayne Mills said. “We just get our kids ready each week to go out and give their best effort and represent this county with pride and class.”
There’s more than just tradition backing up the high expectations for Bell this season. The team features a group of 16 seniors, including 11 that were starters on last year’s 11-2 squad.
That experience starts in the offensive backfield where senior Corey Oslonian is back for his second year as the Bobcat quarterback. Oslonian was the model of efficiency last year in completing 41 of 77 passes for 703 yards and 13 touchdowns against just one interception.
Also returning as starters in the backfield are senior halfbacks Ryan Collett and Jonathan Polly. Collett ran for 316 yards and five touchdowns in ten games while playing mostly fullback and Polly had 691 yards and seven scores last year. Their one-two punch should ease the loss of Cory Davenport, who finished his senior year with nearly 1800 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Taking over at fullback is junior Shane Lawson, who showed he has a little bit of a burst with a long run against Harlan in Friday’s scrimmage.
Senior receiver Tyler Green made the most of limited opportunities in 2011, leading the team with 20 receptions for 359 yards and seven TDs. Another senior, Jeffrey Saylor looks to be his primary backup and will also be on the field when the Bobcats go into their spread formations.
Senior Brandon Spade and sophomore Dylan Cox will share time at tight end.
Two starters return along a senior-dominated offensive line. Hunter Marcum (6-4/270) is back at center and Jonathan Burnett (6-3/230) moves over to left tackle. Senior Tyler Mills (6-1/230) is the left guard with big Tan Hudson (6-6/320) taking over at right tackle. At the right guard position juniors Cody Griffin (6-2/240) and Trevor Swanner (6-0/205) will be splitting time.
There is plenty of experience on defensive side of the ball as well.
Cox returns at left end with Burnett starting at left tackle and seniors D.J. Warwick and William Elliott at the guard spots. Senior Joe Jackson is the right tackle with Saylor bringing speed and height to the right outside linebacker spot.
Polly and senior Corey Lee give the Bobcats a pair of active inside linebackers that can cover a lot of ground.
Green returns at right corner with junior Justin Warwick taking over at the left CB and Oslonian is back at safety.
Bell’s 2011 season ended in the quarterfinals with a 26-0 loss to Louisville Central. Mills says that last game has been a motivator for the players this off season.
“One thing I’ll say about last year’s game at Louisville Central is that if things go right early for us, we’re in that ball game. They capitalized on some turnovers that we gave them and went on to win,” he said. “You can tell our kids are motivated by that game, they talk about it all the time. But we’ve got a tough district, we know Wayne County and Corbin are going to be good.
“The big thing is the winner of our district gets to play at home all they way through until the state championship game. That’s an opportunity in itself, and that’s what we’re focused on because those are the teams standing in the way of our goal at the end of the season.”
Mills also said that folks shouldn’t expect to see the Bobcats make a lot of changes in their style of play based on the loss to Central, it was the third straight season Bell’s playoff run has come to an end against the eventual state champions. Boyle County knocked out Bell in the 4A semifinals in 2009 and 2010, the year before that the Bobcats were the Class 4A state champs themselves. With homefield advantage a possibility through the playoffs for as long as they win, 2012 could see another deep post-season run for Bell.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it — that’s kind of our motto. We’ve got a good senior class, there are a lot of expectations on this team and hopefully we can go and fulfill them,” Mills said. “It’s a long season, but we’ve got the makings of a good team if we can stay healthy and not have many bumps in the road. Some of our young kids have got to come along because depth is an issue and we can’t afford to get anybody hurt.”
There are plenty of interesting games on the Bobcats’ schedule this year, starting with a showdown against 4A contender Lexington Catholic on Friday in Lexington. Lex-Cath’s 3,000-yard quarterback Kyle Bolin has committed to the University of Louisville and the team will be featured on an ESPNU game the following week.
The Bobcats go back to Lexington in week two to take on 6A Bryan Station as part of the iHigh Football Frenzy then play county rival Middlesboro in the City/County Bowl on Aug. 31 in their home opener. The Bobcats also host Whitley County and then start district play after their Sept. 14 open week.
Wayne County comes to Bell on Sept. 21 with the Bobcats going to Casey County the following week. Bell hosts rebuilding 5A Clay County on Oct. 5 before completing their district slate at Corbin and at home against McCreary Central. The Bobcats close out the regular season with a big showdown at 5A Harlan County on Oct. 26. The Black Bears are coached by Tom Larkey, who was the Rockcastle County coach in 2006 when the Rockets were the last Mountain team to beat Bell.
Mills said he’ll find out a lot about his team in those first two games and from there, it’s just a matter of the Bobcats putting their attention on one game at a time.
“I just think we’ve got to come in focused. Our seniors have got to be leaders,” Mills said. “We’re always going to be everybody’s bulls-eye and everybody’s going to give their best effort against Bell. So we better know that when we come in we’ve got to be ready to play, if we don’t we’re going to get beat.”