After reaching the semifinals of the Class 2A state playoffs for the first time in more than four decades last year (losing to the eventual state champion Junction City Dragons), the Walnut Ridge Bobcats are facing high expectations in this year’s follow up.
But, barring injuries, Bobcat head coach Larry Treadway said he feels his squad is up to the challenge.
“Well, you know, in our league, a lot of things come down to injuries … and that’s kind of been the case in the last seven or eight years I’ve been in this,” Treadway said. “But, you know, if we stay healthy … we’re gonna be in the hunt again. I mean, we were in the hunt last year … and went to the semifinals in the state tournament. We finished up extremely strong … so I’d say I hope we’re gonna be in the top four.”
With 10 returning seniors on his anticipated 25-man roster, Treadway said an experienced defensive line should be a major asset going into the season.
“Our strength is gonna be our defense,” he said. “We should be a little more sound on defense than we’ve been in the past. Our weakness, like anybody in 2A football, [will be] depth.”
Asked if there are any particular games he’s highlighting on the schedule, Treadway said the 3-2A conference is tough from top to bottom, so no one game is any more or less important that any other.
“Naw, just like anybody — the first one,” he said. “You know, you’ve got to beat the Salems and the EPCs (East Poinsett County) and the Cross Countys, and even Marked Tree this year. I mean, anybody could beat anybody on a given night, and I don’t know if everybody can say that in every conference.”
Compared to last year’s squad, Treadway said Bobcat fans can look for a bigger, stronger defensive line and plenty of athleticism on both sides of the ball.
“Each group has their own legacy, and these guys will have to define what that legacy is,” Treadway said. “Hopefully, it’s defense and moving the football on offense.”
Due to the lack of depth, Treadway said most of his squad will be playing in both directions, a deficiency that is somewhat alleviated by the experience of his returning seniors.
All-conference senior running back Cole Hicks (6-0, 185) returns to the Bobcat backfield, bringing with him speed, versatility and three years of experience.
Senior receiver Darren Tribble (6-0, 160) also has good speed, Treadway said, “and of course, catches the ball well.” Tribble will also double as a defensive back.
Senior defensive tackle Cody Reithemeyer (6-2, 210), also an all-conference player last year, will be shifting to linebacker this fall, and brings the Bobcats an array of offensive and defensive skills, Treadway said.
Senior Trevor Cothern (5-10, 215) returns as offensive guard, and senior Drake Ditto (5-10, 260) will likely fill the other offensive guard slot while splitting time at left tackle.
“He can actually do a lot of things,” Treadway said of Ditto.
Tyler Binkley (6-2, 190), another returning all-conference senior running back, started at defensive end last year. Binkley will also start as an offensive receiver.
Senior Shelby Wake (6-0, 160) returns as a defensive back this fall.
Senior Jacob Lawson (5-10, 190) will split time at offensive guard and defensive tackle, and returning all-conference middle linebacker Levi Lewis (6-2, 210) will also see time this year at offensive guard, Treadway said.
Senior Gage Ditto (5-9, 160), brother of Drake Ditto, will start at running back/linebacker, and Tyler Fry (6-0, 240) will fill one of the offensive tackle spots.
Junior Tyler Andrews (5-11, 175) will share quarterback duties with sophomore Martin Crisler (5-9, 170), Treadway said, and junior speedsters Cash Lee (5-8, 150) and Kyle Smith (5-8, 160), both of whom boast 4.6 speed, will be starting receivers.
Senior Baron Estes (5-10, 200) will anchor the offense at center, backed up by Preston Aaron.
Rounding out the Bobcat defense are Darren Medlock (6-3, 200) at defensive end, Billy Lawson (5-10, 280) and Justin Hand (6-0, 280), both at defensive tackle, and Chase Flippo in the other linebacker slot.
Flippo will also help out on offense at running back.