After starting the 2016 season with a 6-0 record, the Bedford Bearcats didn’t finish the way they wanted to, dropping four of their last five games.
Three of those four losses came against teams which made the playoffs and the other loss came in a 34-26 game against rival Cleveland Heights, another one of the Lake Erie League’s top contenders.
A playoff-berth and finishing 3-2 in a conference as competitive as the LEL is nothing for anyone to hang their heads over, but for head coach Sean Williams and his Bearcats, they know they could have done more.
“Our Focus Is To Finish”
“The whole focus of this year is finish,” Coach Williams told NEO Sports Insiders.
“We got out to a hot start. We got some victories, but as we all knew and what I said to the guys was as we get into the conference, that’s the most competitive football you’re going to see week in and week out. That is a shootout every week. The kids all know each other. Lorain is good. Cleveland Heights is good. Maple Heights is good. Warrensville.. all these teams are good.
We were younger last year and the year before they pounded our face in. You never know what’s going to happen week in and week out, but for us this year, we have to focus on finishing strong and we have to be able to play great football later. The other two years we made the Playoffs (2013 and 2014), we really played strong third and fourth quarter football and later into the season.”
“In the Lake Erie League, Every Week Is A Dogfight”
“To me, it’s one of the hardest conferences to play in. Period,” Williams said.
“Our athletes are the same. You’ve got great coaches. You’ve got Lorain, which has been rolling. Cleveland Heights rolling. Maple is strong. All of these programs are good. (Warrensville Heights went 0-4 in the conference but 4-2 in non-conference action with three blowout victories) Every week is a dogfight. It’s a total different game every week. It’s a battle. Everybody’s athletes are fast, athletic. When you see the matchups, you can’t walk in there and say ‘Well, they’re going to do this, or they’re 9-1,’ because it’s a dogfight every time. You see teams lose.”
Who’s Coming Back?
(Coach Williams breaks down some of his players and what they bring to the table)
Run The Ball: “We threw the ball more than we ever have in school history last year. We have to be able to run the ball. Period. And stop the run,” the coach said.
“We were not able to stop the run and we were not able to run the ball, efficiently enough last year. To me, we became one-dimensional and when that happens, you’re gonna’ lose.”
Senior running back Lemuel McMichael, senior wide receiver Davion Johnson (offered by Iowa State, Robert Morris and others), junior running back/linebacker Aaron Stone (5-foot-10, 195 pounds) and whoever is under center all figure to play big roles in Bedford’s run game this season, which the coach called “a three-headed monster.”
QB Competition: “We’ve got a little bit of a QB competition going on this year.”
“We’ve got Kenny Wilkins and Emmanuel Jenkins.”
Kenny Wilkins QB/OLB, Sr. 6-foot-1, 220 pounds – “He’s a guy who’s coming back this year after he was not eligible for the first half of last season. He’s got about six or seven Division I offers. He’s really going to be a force, standing up at 6’1″, 220 pounds, playing quarterback. He’s running fast and he’s going to be an impact player.”
“Our quarterback position will be so much more mobile this year.”
Athletes On Both Sides of the Ball: “We’re really, really athletic.”
Davion Johnson WR/FS, Sr., 5-foot-8, 160 pounds – “He’s one of the most electrifying players in the country if you ask me. He may be small, but he’s like a mosquito. Offensively, he’s going to be a very important factor for us. We line him up at the slot. We line him up at running back. We line him up all over the field. He’s like a Swiss Army knife.”
Kevin Brewer WR/CB, Sr., 6-foot-1, 195 pounds – “He’s one of our top defensive backs. He plays corner and has a bunch of offers. He’s going to be a big key for us…Work ethic is what separates him. Anybody who knows me, I push him to death, but he’s one of those kids that responds to it and wants more. He’s going to do extra and is going to seize it. He loves the game. A lot of guys play it, but when you’re talking about loving the game… The great thing about being here at Bedford High School is we have so many guys who have went on and are playing football, whether it’s Division II, Division I and they’ll come back every Christmas and break and tell our guys what it takes. They’ll tell guys it’s really not that much different from here. You’ve still just gotta’ work hard and that’s the difference between Brewer and other talented players. His work ethic, but also on the field, his ball skills are amazing. His ability to track the ball and go get it. He had seven interceptions last year. If you watch every one of his interceptions, not one ball came to him. He went up and got the ball. That’s one thing that he does is his ability to track the ball. He’s also a heck of a punter.”
Gio Holmes DB, So., 6-foot-1, 175 pounds – “This guy looks like a spider. You hear people talking about how everyone wants these long guys. He’s really long and lanky, but real twitchy and quick. I’m really interested to see how he moves and we’re going to get him out there in 7-on-7’s this weekend and see how he moves against some live competition. I see him in practice and he does really well against them, but I want to see him against somebody else.”
Jaden Smith WR, Jr., 5-foot-8, 170 pounds – “He’s our slot receiver and runs adjacent to Johnson. He’s another young man that is strong academically. He had a phenomenal sophomore season. He’s a great wide receiver and is very aggressive.”
The Game Is Won In the Trenches: “Our biggest improvement has to be offensive and defensive line.”
“That’s the biggest thing we have to do to be able to sustain and that to me is the difference between when you can go deep in the Playoffs and when you can’t. If you don’t have offensive line play and strong defensive line play in Northeast Ohio, you’re not gonna’ be there long. You might get in, but you’re not going to be able to stay in. They’re going to pound that rock and you have to be able to stop it and you have to be able to do it.
If you can throw the ball, that’s real pretty. Real cute. And it was. It was real cute, but that’s what I told our guys last year… When it gets 9 degrees, what are you gonna’ do? You’re not throwing the ice ball out here. We’ve been in the Playoffs before and we know what happens. I’ve seen one team throw the ball in this weather before and that’s Mentor. We are not Mentor. We cannot throw the ball and catch it in the cold. This is a real game. We don’t have a heated field.”
Jesse Harris DT, Sr., 6-foot-6, 240 pounds – “If this dude plays like I think he can play, this is gonna’ be like a Blindside movie. This dude looks like a Greek god. I’m telling you. He is just physically put together. He walks past and you’re like, ‘What is that? You have got to be kidding me! Where’s he going? Ohio State?’ No, but if he plays the way I think, Urban Meyer might come to the game. If he can do it. It’s mental. Physically and size-wise, he looks the part.”
“The great thing about our line is all of our starters came back except for one. That’s a key for us and I think that’s where we’re going to improve the most and if we can run that ball, we can play football in Northeastern Ohio. If we cannot pound that rock, we can’t play here. At least if you’re talking Playoffs. You look at teams like Hudson, Warren Harding, what did they do? They pounded it all day.”
“This Is My Dream Job”
Williams’ connection to the Bedford community runs much deeper than football. He went to high school there, played college football at Ohio University and went on to play in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs.
“Working back home is the best thing ever,” he said.
“I live in the community. I see the kids every day in the neighborhood. I know a lot of my kids’ parents. I went to school with them and they still live in the community. I can’t tell you how fun it is. It’s just a whole different energy for me. When I first started, everybody knows I’m a real high energy guy and I remember some coaches telling me, ‘You’re not going to be able to coach like that, you ain’t gonna’ make it,’ but it’s a total different thing now. I’m at home. It’s not a job. It’s not like anything that I could even imagine.
When I took the job, it was just like I told my grandfather before he passed away years ago, this is what I wanted to do. I said I wanted to be a high school coach at Bedford High School. I was even saying that to my teammates when I was in college. It’s great for the kids to be able to see and for me to be a teacher in the school. We have a great bunch of teachers that are really involved with the kids and the program. It’s great because the kids see the teachers and the teachers see the kids in a whole different light, but they’re all working with the same goals and it’s so great to see.”
Since taking over as head coach seven years ago, Williams has led the Bearcats to four winning seasons, and three Playoff appearances in the last four years.
Beford went 10-2 in 2013, following it up with a 12-1 season in 2014, in which they reached the regional final and fell to neighboring Mayfield, 34-32. The Bearcats look to build upon last year’s 7-4 finish.
Williams will be the first one to tell anyone that winning football games is great, but what brings him to work every day is the ability to help impact the lives of kids and families in his community.
Along with serving as head coach, he also works at the school, teaching a class called “freshman transition,” which integrates new students, much like freshman orientation at college.
Bedford’s schedule in 2017 features some marquee matchups, particularly the Lake Erie League games at Cleveland Heights on Oct. 6 and at home vs. Lorain on Oct. 20, both of which figure to go a long way in shaping the LEL championship race.