Sometimes, you just can’t win for losing. Plagued by early injuries, the Cave City Cavemen struggled through 2012, finishing the season with a disappointing 2-7-1 record. But with his entire offensive and defensive lines back from last year, and with his squad finally healthy again, head coach Jon Bradley is looking for a much better run this year.
“We have our entire offensive and defensive line back … and it’s by far the strongest group we’ve ever had, so that’s definitely a strength for us,” Bradley said. “Our weakness is pretty well the same weakness we have every year, which is depth. Our numbers are not great. We’re a small 4A school, and our class sizes aren’t really that big.”
Indeed, with a roster of only 35 players, Bradley will be looking to many of his mainstays to play both directions.
As evidenced last season, Bradley said one of the keys to success this year will be to build momentum early and maintain it throughout the season.
In last year’s season opener, the Cavemen played Batesville Southside to a 32-32 tie, and according to Bradley, his squad actually scored more touchdowns.
Buoyed by a strong opening weekend, the Cavemen were primed for the follow-up contest with Melbourne, but that game was postponed from a Friday to a Saturday because of lightning. Bradley says the delay cost the Cavemen momentum, and additionally, the team was riddled with injuries.
“We had six injuries in that game,” Bradley said. “It was one of those games that, like a lot of them, we were delayed and had to come back and play on Saturday. Our kids were fired up and ready to go— because Melbourne’s turned into a big rivalry game for us—but Saturday, they were just not the same.”
The toll was a heavy one.
Bradley’s starting quarterback was injured on the third play of the game, and by the final buzzer, Cave City had racked up five more injuries, primarily to the skills team.
“It went downhill from there,” Bradley said. “Our quarterback ended up missing three games, and about four or five other kids missed at least one or two games, so … by the time we got to week seven, I think, with Pocahontas, we had four brand new starters on the offensive line.
“When we were healthy, we scored a lot of points. We just were not healthy for a lot of the year.”
Now, buoyed by a strong core of returning starters, Bradley said he’s looking to improve significantly over last year.
“This group of seniors we have, it’s a pretty decent group,” he said. “They’ve really worked hard in the weight room and been real good examples as far as work ethic, and it’s just a really mature group. I feel like just the leadership aspect is gonna be something that will really help this team.
“We’re really close to the same athletic level [as last year] but we’re a lot better up front on both sides of the ball. I expect us to have a better season.”
One specific area in which Bradley expects improvement is the defensive line.
Under the direction of new defensive coordinator Bob Alberson, formerly head coach at Rector, the Cave City defense has flourished, Bradley said.
“Right now, our kids are flying all over the field, and our defense is much improved as far as getting to the ball and getting after it,” Bradley said. “And we feel like if we’re better defensively, we’re gonna give ourselves a chance in every single ballgame.”
Bradley said his offensive line is “pretty much all seniors,” and all bench press 275 pounds or more.
Lucas Barber (6-7, 235) will be starting at left tackle. Barber, who bench presses nearly 300 pounds and has 4.9 speed, played defensive end last year, and Bradley said he will continue to split time at that position.
At left guard is Zeb Ward (6-2, 240), whom Bradley described as “a really good kid” who “probably has potential to be our best offensive lineman.”
Greg Tharp (5-8, 220), who boasts a 425 bench press, will anchor the offense at center, while Brett Dodds (5-9, 215) will start at right guard.
The right tackle is Derrick Presser (6-2, 285) who bench presses 345 pounds and who also scored a 30 on the ACT.
“He’s one of those kids who’s got a lot of schools looking at him,” Bradley said. “He’s a good football player, but they also know he can get an academic scholarship. Right now, he is our best offensive lineman. Great, great kid.”
In the skill positions, Bradley plans to start Colbie “Smokey” Robinson (5-10, 165) at quarterback. Robinson, who will be a junior this year, runs a 4.7 40 and served as backup quarterback last year until he broke his collarbone in the Highland game.
Senior Austin Cunningham (6-0, 155) returns as running back after having worked relief for Cave City’s all-state back, Daron Stigger, who ran for almost 1,700 yards last year. With Stigger’s graduation, Bradley is looking to Cunningham to lead the ground attack.
“He’s really had a good spring running the football, and I expect him to have a good year,” Bradley said.
Additionally on defense, Bradley looks to start senior Trevor Hatfield (6-1, 155) at safety and Gus Sharp (6-1, 240) at linebacker.