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Bridgeport Bulls: Bridgeport to complete puzzle with new pieces

Bridgeport-Football

By Brandon Evans, bevans@wcmessenger.com

Bridgeport head football coach Danny Henson knows he has a lot of pieces to replace on offense – including the Bulls’ top receiver and rusher from last year.

But if some talented newcomers step up, it should still be an exciting season west of the Big Sandy.

It’s not easy to replace a running back like Gabe Huerta, who broke the school’s all-time rushing record by amassing a staggering 4,404 yards and 56 touchdowns before he graduated. He’s one of seven starters the Bulls lost on offense.

Senior Chase Collins will get those carries this year. He is new to the running back position, but not to the field. On the defensive side of the ball, he functioned as the top ball-hawk last season at safety and was the team’s leading tackler.

“So far, he’s learning and getting better at (running back),” Henson said. “He’s really good in space and a better receiver. He’s got really good speed. He doesn’t have to be the same type of runner as Gabe. He has to prove to be durable and go in there and execute good.”

Junior Michael Rivera will serve as the No. 2 running back, a position he held last year behind Huerta.

The Bulls also have to replace their leading receiver, Blake Arrington, who caught 37 passes for 649 yards and four touchdowns last year.

But they will still rely on Henson’s spread offense and throw to a lot of different targets.

“We’ll be throwing the ball typical of what we normally do, and spreading the ball around to a variety of guys,” Henson said

Dylan Garrison, Jaz Hickson and Raby Hawkins will all see plenty of time at the outside receiver position, while Jake Simmons will catch a lot of balls inside.

“We need to get contributions from all those guys,” Henson said. “We also need them to be good blockers. Blocking by receivers is important in our system because there are so many of them out there. A big part of our success is how well they block as well as catch.”

The Bulls do return starting quarterback Trey Cook.

“He needs to make a lot of improvements over last year, which he should,” Henson said. “He was a sophomore last year. He’s gotten better over time. He had a good spring, a good offseason and a good two-a-days.”

Last season Cook threw for 838 yards with a 52 percent completion rate, notching four touchdowns along with seven interceptions.

Hunter Gantt also returns. The senior is listed as a receiver, but he’ll play a variety of roles.

“He’s going to be one of our main offensive weapons,” Henson said. “He’ll see time at receiver, running back and part-time quarterback.”

It won’t be a true two-quarterback system, but Henson has certain packages and plays set up just for Gantt to come in and run. Last year under center, he was 23 of 49 for 378 yards along with three touchdowns and three interceptions.

Gantt’s athleticism was limited somewhat last year after he suffered an ankle injury on the second play of the first game of the season versus Alvarado.

“Trey is the quarterback, and Hunter is a receiver – but we will get Hunter in there at quarterback in a package to give our offense a different dynamic. He’s a good runner,” Henson said.

The offensive line will also see plenty of new faces.

Senior Cason Mitchum returns to a starting role, alongside seniors Julius Pendergraft and T.J. Noble, who both played a lot of downs last year.

“They are going to have to step up into bigger roles than what they were used to,” Henson said.

Juniors Keaton Vawter, Bronson Burks and Rolando Rivera have graduated from the JV to bolster an offensive line that needs to gel if they are going to give Cook time to run the spread offense.

FINDING THEIR WAY

The defense also has work to do to improve over last season. Last year they gave up an average of 402 yards per game, including 247 yards on the ground and 155 in the air.

But they do return an experienced crop of players, including seven starters and others who saw a lot of playing time.

“We have a lot of kids coming back at defense,” Henson said. “We still may be a bit undersized at some of the positions. We’d also like to be a bit faster at some positions, but those players are older now and a little bit more experienced we we’re expecting pretty good things out of them.

“Our defensive line has a lot of experience. They are strong. We are expecting those guys to play a bigger role, and hoping for them to make an impact.”

The linebacking corps should be a strong suit this year as all three starters return, including seniors Wyatt Day, Joey Arquette and Jesse Williams. Day was the second-leading tackler on last year’s team.

Senior Bryan Hutchinson returns at a corner and senior Bryan Polk will settle in at free safety. Junior Tyler Raby will take over at strong safety after getting a lot of playing time as a sophomore.

That experience should enable Henson’s defense to hold their own against the myriad of offensive styles they’ll face throughout the season.

Bridgeport’s non-district schedule features three teams ranked in the top 25 in 3A in Dave Campbell’s “Texas Football” preseason poll.

Alvarado will come in for the opener ranked No. 20. Abilene Wylie is No. 8 and fresh off a 12-1 season, and Graham, who the Bulls will play at Graham on Oct. 4, is ranked No. 9 after going 13-2 last year.

The good thing is that the Alvarado game Aug. 30 and the Abilene Wylie game Sept. 6 are both at home.

“By the time we reach district we’re not intimidated by the really good teams we’ll face in district,” Henson said. “We’ll have faced good teams, which means each kid at each position has gotten used to facing really good opponents.

“Once we get into district play the good players we see there won’t have a shock value.

“The challenge is when you’re playing the teams of a high caliber, and you’re missing a step or two, you can get plagued by injuries and the players can get down.”

But the defense will see a variety of offensive styles.

“We’ll see everything from offenses that are spread out and pass the ball a lot to teams that focus almost solely on the run game or mixing the two,” Henson said. “Throughout the season we can’t get ourself geared to one style of playing.”

“In district, all our opponents run the ball well, but there are also some good passers and capable receivers. We play opponents that are balanced and tough to defend.”

Henson sees last year’s district champion as the clear leader, at least in the pre-season.

“Gainesville has a lot of kids coming back who are very good,” Henson said. “I think they are hands-down the favorite to win the district.

“As for the rest – I don’t think there is a pecking order. It’s going to be a heck of a year. Every week in our district I think there are going to be a lot of games that are going to be close and are going to be tough to predict.

“Every team, it doesn’t matter who you talk about, they think they will have a good chance to challenge with Gainesville for the district title.”

Count the Bulls among them, as the pieces of the puzzle come together.

PROJECTIONS

District 9-3A

1. Gainesville – Athletes, speed and a new talented quarterback. The old Gainesville is back.

2. Krum – A lot of talent returns for the Bobcats from a 9-2 team in 2012.

3. Decatur – The offense should be dangerous, but the defense has to improve from last season.

4. Sanger – A winless and injury plagued 2012 should give the Indians motivation. Sanger returns eight offensive and 10 defensive starters.

5. Bridgeport – The Bulls are depending on a lot of unproven players. A seventh straight playoff trip is in jeopardy.

2013 SCHEDULE

Aug. 30 … Alvarado … Home
Sept. 6 … Abilene Wylie … Home
Sept. 13 … Iowa Park … Away
Sept. 20 … Burkburnett# … Home
Sept. 27 … Princeton … Away
Oct. 4 … Graham … Away
Oct. 11 … Krum* … Home
Oct. 25 … Decatur* … Away
Nov. 1 … Sanger* … Home
Nov. 8 … Gainesville* … Away

Games at 7:30 p.m., except Iowa Park at 7 p.m.
# homecoming game
* district game

TEAM ROSTER

2 … Hunter Gantt … WR … 12
3 … Brazier Talley … WR … 10
4 … Chase Collins … RB … 12
5 … Jordan Polk … DB … 12
7 … Evan Younger … DB … 12
8 … Chris Hernandez … DB … 11
9 … Dylan Garrison … WR … 11
10 … Raby Hawkins … WR … 11
11 … Corbin Coleman … QB … 10
12 … Brayden Garrett … DB … 12
14 … Tyler Raby … DB … 11
15 … Trey Cook … QB … 11
16 … Lane Morrow … WR … 10
17 … Jacob Roberts … DB … 10
18 … Dillon McAlister … DB … 10
20 … Jake Simmons … WR … 11
21 … Ryan Dunn … DB … 11
22 … Michael Rivera … RB … 11
23 … Alex Cordova … LB … 11
24 … Travis Fuentes … DB … 11
25 … Jacob Mogus … DB … 11
26 … Brandon Norris … DL … 11
27 … Bryan Hutchison … DB … 12
28 … Jose Gonzales … DB … 11
30 … Wyatt Day … LB … 12
32 … Cameron Starnes … WR … 10
33 … Dylan Lopez … LB … 12
36 … Brauch Walker … LB … 11
40 … Tully Hannah … DL … 11
41 … Joey Arquette … LB … 12
43 … Austin Lennard … DL … 12
44 … Jesse Williams … LB … 12
45 … J.D. Garrett … LB … 11
47 … Remi Lane … DL … 11
48 … Jose Salazar … DL … 12
55 … Jose Rodriguez … DL … 12
56 … Bry Warren … DL … 11
58 … Zach Carstens … DL … 12
60 … Albert Galvez … DL … 12
61 … Tyler Jennings … OL … 11
62 … Daniel Ortiz … DL … 12
64 … T.J. Noble … OL … 12
66 … Rolando Rivera … OL … 11
70 … Keaton Vawter … OL … 11
73 … Robert Rodriguez … OL … 12
74 … Cason Mitchum … OL … 12
76 … Julius Pendergraft … OL … 12
77 … Payeton Belcher … DL … 12
79 … Bronson Burks … OL … 11
81 … Jaz Hickson … WR … 12
82 … James Ward … LB … 11
83 … Rosendo Cardenas … WR … 11
85 … Juan Alanis … WR … 12
88 … Roger Mastin … DB … 10