Bobcats ready to bring their “A Game” to Class 3A

Published 8:35 am Saturday, August 25, 2018

ORANGEFIELD — It could be quite a refreshing change for the Orangefield Bobcats as they will venture into the Class 3A waters after scrapping hard at the Class 4A level the last several years.

After being one of the smallest 4A schools in the state for years, the Bobcats made the drop down to 3A after the last UIL realignment.

Despite having been one of the smallest 4A schools, the Bobcats, led by Coach Josh Smalley, have made the playoffs every year since 2013.

Does it mean that things will get easier in dropping down a class?

Absolutely not, the Bobcats will have to prove it out on the field against some “tough customers” in their new District 12-3A Division I.

“We know expectations are high, the kids are excited and the community is thrilled but there is a lot of work to be done,” said Smalley. “It’s going to be nice to compete against teams that don’t have those big numbers like the opponents we had in 4A. Our depth matches up much better with the teams in our new district and we won’t be so worn down late in games like we were against bigger schools with more depth, but there is a ton of talent in our new league, and it’s a bigger district, we’re going to have to bring it each and every week.”

Games against Woodville and East Chambers will be tall chores after those two programs have excelled in recent years. Then there is the “old” rivalries with Buna and Kirbyville that will get stirred up. Anahuac, Hardin and Warren will have a say as well in an eight-team district in which four will make the playoffs.

“There is a lot of talent in the district and so many teams do so many things different,” said Smalley. “Woodville is simply loaded and we go to their place. East Chambers has some tremendous athletes. Buna, what more can you say, our rivalry with them goes way back and now we’re back in a district with them. You know Kirbyville and Anahuac has a bunch of athletes and they’re going to be better. Hardin throws it 50 times a game. It’s going to be really interesting for sure.”

The Bobcats’ old 4A district had just five teams in it when the top four went, so that means the Bobcats will have to bring their “A” game for seven district battles.

“Each week is going to mean more now as far as making a push for the playoffs with seven district games, there is no margin of error and we’re constantly telling the kids that,” said Smalley. “It is nice to just play three non-district games instead of the six we had because we always worried about injuries before district started. Now we have the luxury of district actually starting in September for a change. However, that does mean we have to be ready for when they really count, that goes not only for the kids but the entire coaching staff.”

The Bobcats will welcome back 14 starters off last year’s playoff unit, including eight on the defensive side of the ball.

Coach Smalley likes what he sees coming back as far as skill people in the backfield and the secondary but feels some young guys will definitely have to step up and help them in the trenches on both sides of the leather.

Senior Mason Gonzales will return at quarterback after also making all-district as a defensive end last season. Blake Love and Gunner Jones will also get snaps from time to time.

“Mason is a good leader for us and has played at the varsity level for three years already, so he knows what it is all about,” said Smalley. “We love having him back there in the huddle. He’s still going to have to play both ways some but hopefully not as much as he has been.”

The Bobcats have a slew of depth in their backfield.

Blake Bradley, an all-district linebacker the past couple seasons, will be back at fullback along with Quy Tsan and Heston Puckett.

The halfbacks will be Kadeon Evans, Kent Michael and Kayson DuBose while the tailback depth consists of Kade Grozier, Clayson Choate, Chase Broussard and Jacob Harvey. Cade Brown and Ethan Lozano will line up at wide receiver at times to give the Bobcats more weapons.

“We do love our depth back there and a lot of those guys are so interchangeable,” said Smalley. “A lot of them can also line up wide and catch the ball at times when we want to spread it out a little. They all will get plenty of time on defense too, so we love what we might be able to do with all of those guys.”

The biggest question mark will be in the trenches for the Bobcats.

All-District center Jonah Landry is the only returning starter.

“Jonah is a good anchor for us and its always great to have your center back and he reads the line of scrimmage well,” said Smalley. “We’re going to need some of our younger guys that have never been on the field on Friday nights to step in and learn quickly because we lost five guys last year that walked across the stage last May.”

At tight end, the Bobcat staff is looking at Logan Gipson, Lane Rach and Aaron Gordon to fill the shoes of Michael Teeples.

Players that will be battling for starting time across the offensive front will include Gabe Statum, Brendon Roberts, Trip Leger, Brady Bedllow, Connor Tait, Treyte Kuenstler, Xander Steele and Colby Gonzales, who made all-district along the defensive front last season.

The Bobcats will be pretty solid up front with the return of both Gonzales brothers in the trenches along with fellow starter Lane Rach. Also expected to contribute are DuBose, Leger, Gipson, Bellow, Statum and Landry.

“We’re going to have guys going both ways along the line at times, that’s why we’re looking for a few good young men to step up and give us depth,” said Smalley.

The Bobcats are stocked well at linebacker, led by all-district standout Bradley along with Michael, Evans, Puckett and Gordon.

“Blake is definitely our leader on that side of the ball,” said Smalley. “He’s such a fierce competitor in everything he does.”

The secondary is deep as well and it returns all-district safety Choate and cornerback Tsan. Grozier, Brown, Love, Broussard, Harvey will also see extended time as well.

Orangefield will power up their season Aug. 31 at home against Houston KIPP and will also have non-district battles against Livingston and Shepherd.

“That will be some good battles for our kids and will help us all get on the same page before district starts earlier than what we’re used too,” said Smalley. “It will give us a chance to look at a lot of kids in different spots and it will hopefully keep us healthy before district starts.”

The Bobcats will begin their quest for a 12-3A Division I title when they head to Buna to face the Cougars Sept. 28.

“That’s a good one to open up with for sure, it won’t take much to motivate the kids for that one and I know Buna will be just as ready for that slobber-knocker,” said Smalley. “What our kids and community need to remember the most is that we’ve got to go out there and earn it. Nothing is going to be handed to us. We have not won a playoff game in a couple years and everyone is going to want to get after the so-called ‘big school’ of the district. We’ve got plenty of work to do without looking ahead but we feel, as a staff, that the Bobcats will be ready to compete when the time comes.”