The Bell County Bobcats were a team very short on experience at this time last year. They had graduated a large class of seniors and were working against the clock to get unproven new starters ready at several key positions.
It’s a different story this summer as the Bobcats return eight starters on offense and seven on defense along with several others who saw significant varsity action. Instead of using their practice time to get everyone up to speed on the basics, they’ve been able to expand the playbook and work on developing depth. They also looked very good in finishing second at a 7-on-7 tournament at Union College last week.
“This time last year we had a lot of young kids and not a whole lot of seniors to provide leadership. This year’s team has a lot of confidence, more of a swagger to them. They expect to be good and they’re looking like a team with a lot of experience,” Bell County coach Wayne Mills said. “They’ve picked up right where we left off last year and we’ve been able to install more formations. We won’t have to be as vanilla with our offense as we were last year.”
Bell entered last season with a lot of unproven commodities in their backfield and with just one senior on the offensive line they were working to get three sophomores ready to start up front.
Now the Bobcats know that seniors Austin Caldwell and Evan Brock and junior Chase Woolum can all be effective running the ball between the tackles or on the outside. Junior Corey Swanner and sophomore Nathan Collett both proved capable lead blockers and ball carriers at the fullback position and Peyton Collett enters his junior year with nearly two full seasons under his belt at quarterback.
They also return four of five starters on the offensive line: senior Hunter Hurst along with juniors Nathan Murray, Aaron Jenkins and Jacob Sutton.
On the outside senior Hayden Gilbert saw quite a few snaps at receiver last year and sophomore Austin Asher has been impressive at wideout so far in practice and 7-on-7s. Brock and Woolum can also move to the slot when needed and can contribute in the passing game from the backfield.
“We think we’ll be able to do more platooning on our lines and being able to play more kids will help us wear down the other team,” Mills said. “We’ve got a bunch of good backs, which is a good luxury to have, and guys like Evan and Chase can be moved around depending on what we need. We want to put our best athletes on the field whatever positions they might be playing.”
Mills added that his kids have pushed themselves hard as they gear up to start working in pads next week. He’s also been pleased to see the number of players gradually increase over the past two weeks to over 50 players.
“I’ve been really impressed with the number of freshmen that we’ve had come out in the last week. We’ve got 16 freshmen out, not all of them played middle school ball, but that’s a good number and they’ve been working to get up to speed,” he said.
Bell County will host their annual “Meet the Bobcats” practice on Aug. 8 and will open the regular season at South Pittsburg, Tenn., on Aug. 22.