Last season, the John Marshall Bears found themselves in a bit of a rebuilding year, with several freshmen being forced into action, and the results were hard to take sometimes.
But coming off a 5-5 season in which all of those young players gained valuable experience, coach Bruce Troxell sees promise in the Bears' future.
“We've got six kids back on each side of the ball,” Troxell said. “We're trying to piece that puzzle together, find the right spot for each of them. We're young in a lot of places, inexperienced. But we have some talented kids. Where are we gonna go with it? How far is it gonna take us?
“We're in a tough district, but what are you gonna do about it? You've just got to go play.”
The Bears share a district with three of the four semifinalists in Class 3A last season — Heritage Hall, Kingfisher and Bethany — so the road ahead could be a bumpy one. But John Marshall's confidence is on the rise as well.
“It starts with our quarterback, Devion Smith,” Troxell said. “He's a sophomore who started every game for us last year and really came on. He really has some confidence and can throw the ball well. We'll probably run him more this year in the option game and the zone read.”
At 6-foot-4, senior receiver Kameron Bryant gives Smith a big receiver to throw to.
“Devion can throw it good, so I hope we throw the ball more than last year,” Bryant said. “We've got better receivers, bigger receivers — almost all of our receivers are over 6-foot. So we should throw the ball more than last year.”
At 6-foot-3, Tyler Stamm will provide another big passing target after moving from the offensive line to tight end.
The offensive line will have a few new starters.
“Kevin Williams will be a big key for us up there,” Troxell said. “He's started up front for a couple years now and we really lean on him.”
On defense, Troxell brings back a secondary with some experience.
“All four of those guys started the last three games of the year,” he said. “We have two starters back on the defensive line. We have some new linebackers, but they're aggressive. They need to temper that a little bit so they don't overrun plays. But they're physical and they run to the ball.”
After a season in which leadership wasn't as strong as Troxell hoped for, he has preached that quality to his players intently.
“Senior leadership is important,” Bryant said. “Instead of talking about all the stuff we want to do, we've just got to lead by example and go do it.”