Countdown to Herald Pigskin Preview -- FOUR days: Bearcats looking toward growth

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

BAINBRIDGE -- It's not the pains that worry Ed Pilcher. It's the growing.

Pilcher knows just how far his Bainbridge team needs to come this year, and in his heart of hearts, he believes when the time comes his Bearcats will be ready.

"Our defense will be pretty good,'' said Pilcher, now in his second year at Bainbridge. "Our defense will have to carry us until our offense grows up.''

Pilcher knows.

He was a legend at Thomas County Central before coming over to Bainbridge two years ago and it shouldn't take long for Pilcher's vaunted veer offense to start running by teams in Region 1-AAAA, but Bainbridge is counting on a lot of youth in the backfield.

"We don't have a running back that has had any playing time,'' Pilcher said.

And his quarterback will be new, too.

Rohan Gaines, who was last season's quarterback, will spend most of his time at safety, leading what promises to be a pretty stingy defense.

Gaines, one of the most versatile athletes in Southwest Georgia -- he was the point guard for Bainbridge's Final Four basketball team last March -- will also play some offense.

"He will play some quarterback,'' Pilcher said. "He'll take some snaps and play some wide receiver.''

Still, there's going to be a lot of growing from the other skilled position players. Steven Bench, a backup QB last year, takes over as a junior. Pilcher said Bench "has gotten a lot better,'' and believes the best is yet to come.

Bench can throw and he is quick enough for the veer, but Bench and the running backs are all running uphill right now. Both of Bainbridge's backs are sophomores: Damian Bouie and B.J. Cheatem.

"They've just got to grow up,'' Pilcher said. "They're tough kids. They will get better as the season goes along. There's no question about that.''

That's life at Bainbridge, where there's no question the Bearcats will be in the hunt. But if they want to hunt the big game, they will have to grow up in a hurry.

Bainbridge meets rival Cairo in the second game of the season, and the Syrupmakers are ranked No. 3 in the state Class AAA preseason poll. That's nothing. The Bearcats face Northside Warner Robins in their opening Region 1-AAAA game on Sept. 24 in the fourth game of the season.

Northside played for the Class AAAAA state title last year before dropping down to Class AAAA this season after a controversial decision by the GHSA allowed the school, that still has Class AAAAA enrollment numbers, to make the move.

Northside opens the season as the No. 1 ranked Class AAAA team in Georgia. Two other Macon-area schools -- Houston County and Warner Robins -- also dropped down from Class AAAAA and into Region 1-AAAA.

"If you look at those teams on paper then the rest of us are playing for fourth place,'' Pilcher said. "But that's on paper.''

Bainbridge plans on a lot more.

"The goal is to make the playoffs, and then the playoffs mean a second season,'' Pilcher said.

The idea is to grow up along the way and by the time the playoffs get here Bainbridge will be ready to make a run. The defense and the kicking game are good enough to fuel that idea.

"I think this could be our year,'' said cornerback Shawn Samuels, who is one of the top kick returners in this part of the state. Samuels will also play some offense.

He's fast enough to play anywhere on the field. Samuels was the anchor on Bainbridge's 4x100 meter relay team that not only paced the school to its first state track & field team title, but posted the fastest time in Georgia, regardless of class.

"I'm happy we won the state track title, but now I want to win a state title in my favorite sport,'' Samuels said. "It will mean even more. I think this year's team can do it. We have talent and we have heart. We're really expecting big things this year.''

Bainbridge is a perennial playoff team.

"It's always been that way here,'' Gaines said. "We're in the playoffs. But this year we want to take it up a notch.''

That's Pilcher's plan. Play tough defense early and let the offense catch up and then peak when the playoffs get here.

He has the kind of defense that can make life miserable on teams. He returns his best defensive lineman in Qwatavious Middleton, and two had-hitting linebackers in Brandon Linzy and Jamario Brown and he has Samuels and Gaines to lead the secondary. Pilcher also has a kicker who can keep Bainbridge in any game.

Keenan Adams is arguably the best kicker in Southwest Georgia, and maybe the state. His numbers are staggering. Adams has made 89 of 93 extra points in his three years at Bainbridge and has 50-plus yard range. His 52-yarder beat Cairo last season, and he has shown that he can make field goals from 54 yards out.

He also gives Bainbridge a weapon as a punter. Not only does Adams have a 39.9 punting average, but opponents returned punts for a total of only 20 yards all season against Bainbridge.

"We're looking for a big year,'' said Adams, who has committed to Colorado State. "This team is ready to step it up.''

All the Bearcats need is a little time...