Bobcats hoping to repeat championship season
Last updated 8/8/2023 at 11:11am
The Orangefield Bobcats are three weeks away from kicking off a new football season and are hoping for a repeat of last year for themselves. The Bobcats were district champions for the first time in over three decades and won a playoff game.
Head Coach Josh Smalley was obviously pleased with his 9-3 Bobcats in 2022. "It was a good season for us. We had a running back that set the single season rushing record with 2400 yards, we had a lot of positives, and we had a couple kids go play college football," Smalley recalled.
"The community was excited about it, the coaches were excited, the kids were proud of it, but last year was last year and this year doesn't care about last year so that's the kind of message we started preaching in the off season. As much success as we had and as fun as it was that really doesn't have anything to do with this year. We've tried to put that to bed and move on to this year as fast as we could," Smalley added.
Orangefield lost a pretty good group of seniors to graduation last year, but there are some quality Bobcats back this year. The Bobcats need to replace two tight ends and their entire backfield from last year, but the good news is most of the offensive line does come back this season.
Returning linemen on offense begin with starters Brayden McGee at center and Ethan Blackburn at guard. Ethan Brown and Blake McRight also started in the line. Smalley analyzed, "We've got a good quality group of interior guys that have Friday night experience and are coming back."
Even though the entire starting backfield is gone there are some young Bobcats that did play varsity football last season and will carry the ball this year. These players will have to step up to fill the void caused by graduation.
Determining who will be the primary quarterback for Orangefield is a top priority for Coach Smalley and his assistants concerning the offense. The two Bobcats battling to be the starter are Kane Smith and Caleb Fregia both seniors.
Smith and Fregia saw a lot of playing time last year on defense, so now they will be expected to lead Orangefield on offense. The two are good athletes but come with different skills.
Smalley evaluated, "Kane's a little bit faster, but doesn't throw the ball as well. Caleb throws the ball a little bit better, but is not as fast as Kane. We're going to rely on our scrimmages against LCM and Silsbee to determine who's going to start at that position in Week 1."
A running back with some experience is sophomore Mason Manning who played in twelve games mostly on defense. "He'll be the go daddy this year, and hopefully will adequately replace what Cameron Dischler contributed last year," Smalley replied.
Other running backs who were on the varsity will see more playing time this season. Mason Houghton will run at tailback, Kyle Michael will carry the football at fullback, and Lane Gipson at halfback should get more carries.
Smalley summarized, "The big question mark on offense will be the quarterback position. That will be a competition heading into Week 1. After the two-a-days and our scrimmages then we'll make that decision which is a big one. We lost a pretty good bit offensively last year, but we feel confident with the guys we've got coming back it's just a matter of getting them experience and work to have them fill those shoes."
In Class 3A a lot of the Bobcats play on both sides of the football, offense and defense. As a result many of the names on defense are the same as on the Orangefield offense.
Mason Manning as mentioned previously played defense and was a starter at cornerback for the Bobcats. He could be the leader of the Orangefield secondary on defense.
Kane Smith and Caleb Fregia who both played in the secondary last year are back. Inside linebackers Lane Gipson and Kyle Michael are seniors so should be big pluses for the Bobcats.
Noseguard Diego Garcia will add strength inside for the Orangefield defense. "The interior of our defense should be pretty good because they all have Friday night experience," Smalley pointed out.
There are some young Bobcats that Coach Smalley expects will make their presence felt when the season starts. Smalley identified, "We've got two sophomores that will get a look on defense at outside linebacker. Kaleb Menard at 6-1, 190, is a big good looking athletic kid, Carson Worthy will get a look, and junior Logan Trahan will also get a shot to start. "Outside linebacker is a position where we did lose players to graduation and we're going to have to have some guys step up and play, but we feel like we have capable hands there," Smalley stipulated.
Both defensive ends need to be replaced because of graduation. Juniors Kaden Knott and Ethan Brown along with senior Blake McRight are Bobcats that do not have varsity experience but the coaches believe they are capable of filling those holes for Orangefield by getting them repetitions and Friday night snaps.
New faces will make the Bobcat varsity this fall. Zach Morrow is a junior moving up from the junior varsity who will play in the secondary on the varsity this year. Junior Steyle Spurlock also played on the junior varsity and is expected to step up to help Orangefield in the secondary and special teams. Sophomore running back Kyler Green will fill in at tailback as will Rylan McAlpin who is dealing with a little bit of an injury for about another month.
"We've got guys that have played a lot, just not a lot on Fridays. We're counting on senior Logan Cheek who has not played in a couple of years, but I think he's really going to step in defensively and help us in some areas where we need help," Smalley responded.
The next three weeks will be spent shoring up any holes and working to get a starting eleven on both offense and defense for Orangefield. Offensively Smalley's attention will be focused on establishing the two tight end spots.
"We've got guys in position that are capable of filling the shoes of Morgan Sampson and Koen Maddox. Jacob Worthy is a senior who played a little bit for us last year at split end. Kaden Knott, Kaleb Menard, and newcomer Akilles Garcia a powerlifter is working at tight end. Tight end offensively is a spot for me that is a key one early on," Smalley emphasized.
On defense the outside linebacker and defensive end positions are two spots garnering the defensive coaches' attention. Smalley reminded, "We've got guys that have played those positions on Thursday but the tempo really picks up at the varsity level, and there's a difference between Thursday night speed and Friday night speed. Getting those guys a good look and experience will be big for me in the two scrimmages."
Coach Smalley hopes after the success of last season he and the coaches have established a standard at Orangefield where the Bobcats are able to compete for a district championship every year. The strategy is to use the scrimmages with Little Cypress Mauriceville and Silsbee, the non-district schedule against quality opponents like Bridge City, Woodville, and Shepherd to get the Bobcats ready for the district. Another district championship is the goal for this season.
The Bobcats have been told by the coaches during the off season, during the summer, and now in the preseason workouts what the goal is and what it will take to achieve it. "Getting to the top of the mountain is extremely difficult. Staying on top of the mountain is even harder. We're now the team in our district that other teams are going to want to knock off and we're going to get everybody's best shot every time we step out there on Friday night. We haven't been the hunted very often, we've always been the hunters, and now we're that team and that program that's being hunted every Friday night. It's a different mentality that our kids have got to understand. It doesn't matter who we're playing we're going to get everybody's very best effort that night so we've got to give our best effort," Smalley concluded.