Battlin’ Bears going through youth movement

Published 10:04 am Saturday, August 25, 2018

LITTLE CYPRESS — They have pushed their way into the postseason four out of the last five years but the Little Cypress-Mauriceville Battlin’ Bears are still in the chase for their first playoff victory since 1997 in which they advanced to the Class 4A Region III Finals.

The Bears (4-5 a year ago), made a nice push in district and fought for the district title all the way to the end to net a third-place playoff seed.

Coach Randy Crouch is gearing up for his 10th season in leading the program, one that will face a new-look district.

The Bears will be looking to compete with one of their youngest teams in recent memory as they look to fill some depth up with some newcomers.

“We’re really a super young team this year for sure,” said Crouch. “We’re looking at a lot of kids to step in and play for us and pick things up pretty quickly. After the two scrimmages and the first couple games, we’ll get a better idea of who is what and where they’re going to help us down the road when district starts up.”

The Bears return four starters on offense and five on defense.

Back to the lead the way is Orange Leader Newcomer of the Year junior quarterback Ethan McCollum as the Bears will once again be in the spread offense.

McCollum passed for 1,130 yards and rushed for 785 more in a solid sophomore campaign.

The Bears do have some big holes to fill at the skill positions as all-district performers Chris Winters, J’Lon Douglas and Katon Brown graduated.

“Ethan has really matured over the course of the offseason and the summer after having a really good sophomore year,” said Crouch. “He’s very versatile and has improved with his arm. It’s great to have him back because, with a year under his belt, he really has the grasps of things.”

Adam Pope will also see some time at quarterback and has a good arm. He also can help at the receiver and tight end spot like he did last season.

The Bears are looking for a few good men to step up in toting the ball out of the backfield. Early on, it looks like Ethan McKay, Blake Pruitt, Landon Bearden and Kristian Ickes will get plenty of touches.

“Those guys bring a lot to the table and they can all do different things, which is good,” said Crouch. “We’re also leaning on those guys to help us out on defense. We’re looking for some younger guys to step in as well so we can have as many interchangeable parts as we can.”

The receiver position has a lot of candidates, including the likes of James Williams, D.J. Williams, Brendon Pollock, Gavin Ihle, Justin Lee, Tyler Rhodes, Seth Carpenter and Connor Smith.

“Those positions are definitely wide-open and they will all get good looks,” said Crouch. “It will be good to see them rise up and improve because we still want to be as balanced on offense.”

The offensive line will be paced by returning all-district performer Colt LeBleu along with Ethan McKay, Shawn McKay and Blake Ferguson while Brett Keele, Monterey Valladares and Matthew Lopez will play a lot at tight end.

“Colt, he’s a strong leader for us,” said Crouch. “We’ve got to be able to spare him some because he plays on the defensive front too. We’ve got some youngers guys that will definitely have to give us some added depth.”

Defensively the Bears will lean on the likes of LeBleu, Ferguson and Ethan McKay early on as some of the younger guys get their feet well.

The linebackers will be led by Keele, Pruitt, Ickes, Lopez and Shawn McKay.

The secondary has a little more depth with James Williams, D.J. Williams, Pope, Lee, McCollum and Ihle.

Things could change early on as a lot of young names not mentioned could step in and shine anywhere on the field.

“We’re definitely still trying to zero in on several different spots and the competition level and the spirit of the kids are high, they all want to get on the field and help,” said Crouch.

The Bears will be bracing for a new-look district.

Gone are the likes of Silsbee, Navasota and Cleveland. However, three former 5A schools will enter the Bears’ Cave this year in a new District 11-4A Division I in the forms of Lumberton, Splendora and Livingston as those three teams will join the Bears, Bridge City and Huffman. Lumberton, Splendora and Livingston were all Class 5A teams last year.

“It’s going to be interesting for sure,” said Crouch. “It’s kinda renewing old rivalries in a way. Not too long ago before we dropped down a class, we had Lumberton and Livingston in our league. Livingston always has some athletes and Lumberton runs that Slot-T and Wing-T offense well and Splendora should have some good numbers out. Bridge City is going to improve and Huffman is always tough. With those three bigger schools joining us, that means we’re going to have to stay even more injury-free and get some of our younger kids to step in and give a great effort.”

The Bears return four starters on offense and five on defense.

A young Bears squad will certainly be tested with a very hard non-district schedule that features five playoff teams of a year ago in Woodville, which is the season opener on the road Aug. 31, West Orange-Stark, Jasper, Vidor and Hardin-Jefferson.

‘”Every team we face made the playoffs, some of them going pretty deep, of course, West Orange-Stark definitely did, as usual,” said Crouch. “Jasper has a bunch of kids back and are always so athletic. Woodville, as we found at last year, is the real deal and we open things up at their place. Coach (Jeff) Mathews will have Vidor ready to come over here. Hardin-Jefferson, I know they’re excited with Coach (Dwayne) DuBois back over there. Each one of those teams will give us different looks. That’s a schedule where you’ll certainly find your strengths and weaknesses so it will definitely help us prepare for district. Five non-district games always seems to be a lot. Hopefully we can stay healthy and keep improving each week.”

Three of LC-M’s five district games are on the road. They will open up 11-4A play Oct. 12 at Bridge City and also have trips to Livingston and Huffman while they will host Splendora and Lumberton.