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Does Long Beach have right ingredients for break-out 2017 season? Bearcats believe so.

Watch as Long Beach football explains high hopes for 2017

Long Beach High School's football team has big expectations for the 2017 season.
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Long Beach High School's football team has big expectations for the 2017 season.

Long Beach is in the midst of a difficult stretch on the gridiron, but coach Forrest Williams has the Bearcats believing 2017 will be different.

With a senior-laden team and experience returning at several key positions, Williams, in his fourth season at LBHS, can’t help but feel optimistic.

To paraphrase a metaphor Williams has used: The Bearcats have been wandering in the desert for several years but they finally feel like they have a chance at getting out of the wilderness.

Can the Bearcats finally step up, rescue themselves and break into the promised land — or in this metaphor, the playoffs?

“I feel like we have a chance to be really good,” he said. “I’m not saying state championship good, but if our guys do what I know they’re capable of doing — obviously I know what state championship teams look like — I know we have the right mix and right components for what it takes.”

Offense

The Bearcats boast the Coast’s most productive returning QB in Cade Crosby (1,943 yards, 16 touchdowns) along with a strong complement in Jaidon Evans (666, 4). With heavy graduation at the quarterback position, and inexperience at the spot for a number of programs, that could give the Bearcats a leg up on their opposition.

“That’s going to be an equalizer, I think,” he said.

Long Beach High School's football team has big expectations for the 2017 season.

The two quarterbacks combined to complete 56.4 percent of their passes. If LBHS is going to have a chance at optimizing its tempo offense, Williams said they’ll need to improve by nearly 10 percent.

“We have to be 65 percent plus,” Williams said. “When we beat Picayune (36-34 in overtime) two years ago with our third-string quarterback of course we had some dynamic receivers, but I told Mitch (McCaleb), ‘Mitch, if you’re at 65 percent we win this game.’ He went 64.7 percent and threw for 400 yards. Sixty-five is kind of the magic number.

“We’re going to be tough to beat because, we do throw the ball more than most but we’re an efficiency offense more than a bomb-it-down-the-field offense.”

The QBs will be aided by a group of receivers Williams said make up the deepest position on the team. The Bearcats return five players who made at least 11 receptions in 2016, led by Tony Young (49 receptions, 708 yards, six touchdowns).

“We don’t drop a lot of balls (in practice). We run great routes and when your quarterback puts it on the money (good things happen),” Williams said. “We feel like we can throw it to any one of these guys and good things will happen.”

Williams is also excited about rising junior running back Dennis Andrews. Stuck behind 900-yard rusher Jaylen Bankston last year, Andrews only rushed for 179 yards and a touchdown on 57 carries. Williams believes, however, that Andrews can be a breakout star on the Coast in 2016.

“He’s fast and is going to be a big back coming out of the backfield,” Williams said of his 5-foot-10, 208-pound junior. “He also has very good hands.”

The Bearcats return five seniors along the offensive line in J.T. Tripp, Joseph Olguin, Bryce Warden, Caleb Gowens and Jake Strong. Although that could mean problems in 2018, it’s a good spot for the 2017 Bearcats.

“Our linemen aren’t the biggest but they move down field well,” Williams said.

Defense

One of the biggest losses on the Coast was the graduation of Jarius Warren, who was a beast up front for the Bearcats.

This year’s Long Beach defense will likely be led from the back; specifically cornerbacks Tim Duncan and Derek Young. Both defensive backs had a pair of picks a year ago — with Duncan posting a team-best 10 passes defended. Williams is expecting much bigger things from the duo in 2017.

“We feel like with those two guys we can lock down really anybody,” he said.

Long Beach’s top returning tackler and sack artist is Tyson Callahan. The rising senior linebacker collected 88 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks a year ago and has plenty of expectations on his shoulders this year.

“We need him to produce,” Williams said, adding the linebacker group is probably Long Beach’s thinnest.

The Bearcats will rotate a number of guys along the defensive front, but Torique Bester should lead the group.

“He’s super strong,” Williams said. “He has been a state qualifier in powerlifting the last two years. I’m excited to see what he can do.”

Crosby will punt for the Bearcats this year. Crosby will be joined by soccer standout Kai VanCourt when it comes to kicking duties.

Time to play

Long Beach teams up with Pass Christian on Thursday to open the season in South Mississippi with the inaugural Coast Kickoff Classic at PCHS. LBHS has a bye week and then visits Bay before hosting Vancleave and Greene County to conclude its non-region schedule.

“We have four 4A teams to open the season. If we can beat all those guys, it’s going to make us a good 4A team, but that doesn’t do anything for us to make the 5A playoffs. We are still looking to take that leap,” Williams said. “We’re very optimistic as a coaching staff. We feel like we have the ingredients.”

LBHS will host Region 8-5A newcomer Wayne County plus Picayune, West Harrison and Stone. The Bearcat’s 8-5A road games include Pearl River Central, Gautier and Hattiesburg.

“There aren’t many off weeks in our region,” Williams said. “We have been the off-week for a lot of teams and now I think coaches realize they’re not going to be able to walk in and treat Long Beach like a homecoming opponent this year. That’s a good thing.”

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs

Long Beach schedule

Aug. 17: At Pass Christian

Sept. 1: At Bay

Sept. 8: Vancleave

Sept. 15: Greene County

Sept. 22: At Pearl River Central

Sept. 29: At Gautier

Oct. 6: Wayne County

Oct. 13: Picayune

Oct. 20: West Harrison

Oct. 27: At Hattiesburg

Nov. 3: Stone

Long Beach roster

1 Kobe Cook

2 Tony Young

3 Jaidon Evans

4 Logan Matherne

5 Tony Pham

6 Charlie Wescovich

7 Cade Crosby

8 Cameron Wise

9 Tim Duncan

10 Gerald Jones

11 Derek Young

12 Guice Tripp

13 Da’Juan Masters

14 Austin Allen

15 Dyvonne McCord

16 JR McFarland

17 Johnny Pham

18 Jonathan Ulrich

19 D’lijah Robinson

20 Lonnie Sanders

21 Darnell Thornton

22 Kai VanCourt

23 JayQuawn McCall

24 Jervey Foxworth

25 Julius Wells/Xavier Pursley

26 Bryce Haden/Colten Vehrs

27 Bradley Owens

28 Mathew Hertzog

29 Rayshawn Rice

30 Simon Nguyen

31 Arnage Caston/R.J. Reeves

32 Michael Wren

33 Tyson Gaines

34 Daniel Outlaw/Tridarius Strickland

35 Daer’eyawn Williams

36 Jonathan Berry

37 Danton Pierson

38 Dennis Andrews

39 Lawrence Tyler

40 D’Jarion Cameron

41 Marty Moore

42 Tyson Callahan

43 Cisco Eavenson

44 Jerunte King

45 Michael Felder

46 D’Alan King

47 Julian Taylor

50 Jaleel Jones

51 Jerran Evans

52 Jase Neale

53 Jaylon Carter

54 Andrew McMillan

55 Blake Pigage

56 Camron Matthews

57 Caleb Gowens

58 Bryce Warden

59 Jake Strong

60 Hayden Husband

61 Kenny McNutt

62 Ismail Prudhomme

63 Shea White

64 Javonte Foxworth

65 Parker VanAlstyne

66 Torique Bester

67 Joseph Olguin

68 Dillion Strahan

70 Tyrell Webber

71 Daniel Outlaw

72 R.J. Johnson

73 J.T. Tripp

74 Mark Bush

75 Damarcus Andrews

76 Tramaine Thompson

77 Kyle Morgan

78 Gabe Smith

79 Carlos Bullard

80 Kaleb Ellingburg

81 Addison Englund

82 Andrew Schepens

99 Ta’jon Smith

Andrew Carpenter

Andrew Bias

Aidan Ogilvie

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