By Clay Corbett | Originally published Wednesday, August 29, 2012
The Bridgeport Bulls will try to reload after losing numerous key players after last season’s 7-4 campaign. Bridgeport finished a grueling regular season schedule before a heartbreaking playoff loss to Glen Rose.
“We all felt pretty bad about losing in the first round,” explains Danny Henson, who enters his 20th season of heading the program. “It was a game we lost by one point, so there is always a thousand things you think you should have done better to get a win.”
“That loss kind of leaves a bad taste in everybody’s mouth, and hopefully it’s good motivation to do better than that this year.”
The 2012 version of the Bulls have a lot of holes to fill to get back to the playoffs for the sixth straight season.
“We’ve got a lot of positions with significantly different players than last year,” Henson said. “It’s not just one or two spots; it’s quite a few.”
The Bulls will be breaking in a new quarterback with Hunter Gantt, up from the junior varsity, along with replacing two receivers. The offensive line will return the most experience, with three starters coming back.
Leading rusher and receiver Gabe Huerta also returns to lead the offense.
The whole defensive front is gone, along with the middle linebacker and key guys in the secondary.
Despite some new inexperienced faces, Henson says the goals are still the same.
“We want to win district and get to the playoffs,” Henson said. “Once we get to the playoffs then we want to try to go somewhere.”
It will be a whole new road to the playoffs, for the Bulls. District 9-3A moves north, with Decatur being the only familiar team Bridgeport has faced recently.
“It’s a new year,” Henson said. “We are in a new district, a new region, just a new everything. Just getting to the postseason will be a challenge in itself.”
The Bulls will face Krum in the district opener followed by their open week. Decatur, Sanger and Gainesville follow.
Even though it is a lot of new faces, Henson is confident his team will be ready by that point in the season.
“We have a lot of unknowns,” Henson said. “It has been a long time since we played Gainesville and Sanger. Decatur is the only one we are familiar with. But by the time we get to that part of the season, we will be ready to play them.”
On top of that, the Bulls face another very difficult pre-district schedule, too, with road games to Alvarado and Abilene Wylie to begin the year. Iowa Park, Burkburnett, Princeton and Graham follow.
The Bulls also scrimmaged Argyle and Celina this month, two of the toughest 3A teams in the state.
Henson says the tough competition at the beginning of the season is all part of the plan of improving.
“We like doing that,” Henson said about the tough pre-district schedule. “We are playing those games to get ready for district. We want to win, and that is our goal. But our ultimate goal as we go through those pre-district games is to be good when we get to district. As a competitor, we look forward to competing against some of the best.”
The grueling schedule will make for seven straight games until the Bulls’ open date Oct. 19. Bridgeport cannot afford a flat game in 2012 if they want to keep their current playoff streak alive.
OFFENSE: BULLS CHARGE FORWARD
Bridgeport’s offense will be a work in progress in the early part of the 2012 season.
Hunter Gantt is getting his feel for the quarterback role while the Bulls break in some new receivers, too.
Last season the Bulls averaged nearly 300 yards passing per game and 130 yards on the ground. To keep that kind of numbers up against a very tough schedule, the Bulls will need numerous guys to step up.
“The most obvious position is quarterback,” head coach Danny Henson said. “Half our receiver corps is playing new roles. Luckily most of them had some experience last year.”
Gantt has gotten off to a good start for the Bulls, and Henson is happy with the junior’s progression.
“He is getting better every day,” Henson said. “He is showing signs of improving. He is a fast athlete that can run well. One of his biggest challenges is improving in the passing game.”
Lucky for Gantt is that of Gabe Huerta returns in the backfield along with an experienced offensive line.
Huerta led the Bulls in rushing and receiving last season. He has amassed 3,043 rushing yards in three years with the Bulls.
The versatility of Huerta gives Henson a big weapon that he can use at any time.
“He gives us another commodity,” Henson said. “He is just another weapon that we can do things off of.”
The offensive line will return center Gentry Funk and tackles Brandon Sessions and Cason Mitchum. All three started all 11 games last season.
Jacob Cornelison also returns at the other tackle position after missing all of 2011 with a knee injury.
Look for Blake Arrington to step up to lead the receiving corps after catching three touchdown passes a year ago. Alex Kline, Jared Sturdivant and Jacob Kerr each saw extensive playing time in 2011 and will be leaned on heavily this season.
The Bulls may not be as explosive as they were last year, but if the young group can continue to improve through a very tough pre-district schedule, then they may be back in the postseason once again.
DEFENSE: FILLING THE GAPS
With an offense that will probably be suffering through some growing pains, the Bridgeport defense may have to learn on the fly.
The Bulls have more holes to fill defensively than they do on the offensive side.
“Defense is the side where we’ve had the most changes,” head coach Danny Henson said. “We lost our entire defensive front to graduation. We’ve had to move some guys from offense to defense to shore up some of those spots.
“Every group on our team has a lot of new faces so there is a lot of player evaluation that is going on right now.”
Bridgeport would like to improve on a defense that allowed well over 400 yards. Most of that came on the ground where the Bulls gave up 250 yards rushing per game in 2011.
The new guys up front will have to do a better job with the running game as well as the linebackers. Middle linebacker Dalton Bracken is gone to graduation, but a good core of linebackers returns with some experience.
Branon Huff (5-10 160) and Jose Salazar (5-10 180) received all-district honors. Wyatt Day and Jesse Williams also picked up some valuable varsity experience.
“Huff and Salazar are two of our players that had very successful seasons last year,” Henson said.
Huff was a first-team, all-district selection in 2011 with 75 tackles.
The Bulls will turn to Justin Cooper and Jose Rodriguez to handle the defensive tackle roles. Albert Galvez, Diego Barboza and Tommy Canales will rotate at the defensive end position.
“Right now we are looking for some guys to anchor that defense,” Henson said. “It may be a situation where we need to be a more team-oriented defense.”
In the secondary, Chase Collins (5-10 160) and Jesse Smith (5-8 150) return after picking up a lot of starts last year. Henson is leaning heavily on that duo to produce a great season.
Collins led the team in tackles last season with 95. He also led in interceptions with three.
Junior Bryan Hutchison is another guy the Bulls will look to help lead the secondary.
HOMETOWN HERO: GABE HUERTA
The powerful, speedy Bridgeport running back has tallied 3,043 yards on 404 carries with 37 touchdowns.
Now, he’s prepared to carry the load for the Bulls’ offense in one final season.
“I’m looking to go all out and make a big run,” Huerta said about the upcoming year.
The 5-7, 170-pound back with 4.4 speed enters the year with high expectations. He was picked by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Magazine as District 9-3A’s preseason offensive MVP.
“It’s good, but I’ve still got to go out and prove it,” Huerta said.
Since he first stepped on the field in the middle of his freshman season, the compact and powerful back has proven worthy of any accolade. He needed just 59 carries as a freshman to run for 354 yards.
“I never thought I’d play my freshman year,” Huerta said.
Huerta followed up with 1,300 yards as a sophomore, averaging a school record 8.4 yards per carry.
Last year, Huerta was unsure if he would get to play after a medical scare during the summer. He ended up missing all of two-a-days.
Not in the best of shape, he came back for the first game and rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown. He’d go on to run for 1,383 yards and 20 touchdowns.
“I had three practices before my first game,” Huerta said. “I was out of shape the whole year.”
He also played most of the year with a broken wrist that didn’t heal until this summer.
While his speed makes it hard for opposing tacklers to bring him down, it’s not his best asset.
“It’s my vision and strength,” Huerta said. “I find the holes, and I’ve had good lines that have helped me get all the yards.
“I’ve been strong since my eighth-grade year and kept getting stronger.”
He’s not afraid to flex that muscle and take on tacklers in the open field.
“I like the contact,” Huerta said. “I’m usually the one delivering the blows. I like hitting people and punishing opponents.”
Huerta will be in the backfield with a new quarterback. The Bulls also lost a lot of experience at wide receiver. The running back knows his number will likely be called a lot this year.
“We’ve been a mostly passing team, but this year it’ll be more 50/50,” Huerta said.
Bridgeport coach Danny Henson knows the experienced Huerta can handle the extra workload and provide leadership to a young offense.
“He brings a lot of experience and prior success,” Henson said. “We have a lot of kids that haven’t had that much success. He is one guy that has records and stats and things that are proof of the success that he’s had coming into this season.”
Huerta owns several school records and is within striking distance of the career rushing mark of Colin Jones, the former TCU player and current San Francisco 49er. Jones’ 4,122 yards are a little more 1,000 ahead of Huerta. He trails Jones’ mark for career touchdowns by 20.
“That would be special since he’s in the pros,” Huerta said. “It’d be hard.”
2012 BRIDGEPORT BULLS
2 … Hunter Gantt … 11
3 … Gabe Huerta … 12
4 … Chase Collins … 11
5 … Jordan Polk … 11
7 … Branon Huff … 12
8 … Jessie Smith … 12
9 … Dylan Garrison … 10
10 … Raby Hawkins … 10
11 … Jacob Franks … 11
12 … Blake Arrington … 12
14 … Tyler Raby … 10
15 … Trey Cook … 10
17 … Jacob Kerr … 12
18 … Alex Kline … 12
20 … Diego Barboza … 12
21 … Tommy Canales … 12
22 … Michael Rivera … 10
24 … Juan Perez … 12
27 … Bryan Hutchison … 11
30 … Wyatt Day … 11
41 … Joey Arquette … 11
42 … Jake Simmons … 10
43 … Austin Lennard … 11
44 … Jesse Williams … 11
45 … Albert Galvez … 11
47 … Juan Rivera … 12
48 … Jose Salazar … 11
52 … Brandan Meyers … 12
54 … Hagen Davis … 10
55 … Jose Rodriguez … 11
56 … Justin Cooper … 12
61 … Leonardo Parra … 12
64 … T.J. Noble … 11
65 … Brandon Sessions … 12
68 … Josh Winebrinner … 12
70 … Craig Bernardo … 12
72 … Gentry Funk … 12
73 … Robert Rodriguez … 11
74 … Cason Mitchum … 11
76 … Julius Pendergraft … 11
77 … Jacob Cornelison … 12
79 … Anthony Viveros … 12
83 … Calvin Jones … 12
75 … Juan Alanis … 11
88 … Jared Sturdivant … 12
Aug. 31 … Alvarado … Away
Sept. 7 … Abilene Wylie … Away
Sept. 14 … Iowa Park … Home
Sept. 21 … Burkburnett … Away
Sept. 28 … Princeton # … Home
Oct. 5 … Graham … Home
Oct. 12 … Krum* … Away
Oct. 19 … Open
Oct. 26 … Decatur* … Home
Nov. 2 … Sanger* … Away
Nov. 9 … Gainesville* … Home
All games at 7:30 p.m. unless otherwise noted
* Denotes District 9-3A games
# Denotes homecoming