24 Days: Long Beach enters season with low profile, high goals

LONG BEACH -- A year ago, Long Beach drew statewide attention with two preseason All-State performers in linebacker Richie Brown and defensive lineman Nick James.

With a host of new faces, the Bearcats go into the 2012 season with a lower profile but the usual high goals.

Long Beach has made the state playoffs for three consecutive seasons under coach Tommy Browder and won the Region 4-5A championship in 2010. The Bearcats, 8-4 a year ago, won their first playoff game under Browder when Long Beach knocked off Brookhaven 31-28.

"We have a lot of inexperience but a fair amount of talent,'' Browder said. "To get the job done, we will have to mature in what, I believe, is the toughest region in the state.

"We are awfully young, with less experience than before with very few seniors.''

The hallmark of the Browder era has been a high-scoring passing offense. During 2009 and 2010, quarterback Anthony D'Angelo threw for a total of 4,393 yards and 45 touchdowns. Last year, Thad Miller completed 147 of 269 passes for 2,361 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Miller, 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds, is back for his junior season, and his favorite receiver -- Chad Cook -- is back as well.

"The Thad and Chad combination is pretty good,'' Browder said. "Chad is hard to cover.''

The 5-foot-9 Cook caught 41 passes in 2011 for 721 yards and six touchdowns.

Miller suffered a broken collarbone near the end of the 2011 season, but has completely recovered.

Eric Mims, who lines up in the slot, and tight end Brenden Rager could be important in the passing game.

Running back Darius Johnson (5-5, 160) is a transfer from Gulfport, and should be a positive asset in the run game. And he could be threat catching the ball as he comes out of the backfield.

"We need to develop a more consistent running game,'' Browder said. "We should be able to run the football better this year. We have most of our linemen back.''

Three starters are back on the offensive line: junior guard Ryan Hayes (5-10, 303), senior tackle Cody Madigan (5-11, 244) and senior guard Trevin Merrill (6-3, 321).

Overall, Browder lists only five senior starters total on offense and defense. Cook, a two-way starter at wideout and cornerback, is the only senior on the defensive side of the ball.

Long Beach waits until Friday for its season opener. The Bearcats scrimmaged with Harrison Central on Aug. 10, dropping a 13-12 decision .