With another year in Coach Joey Ginn's system, the Bethel Wildcats are starting to find their way.
“We are excited about our effort,” Ginn said. “It's really a night and day difference as far as enthusiasm is concerned. I feel so much better about going in to year two. We were so young last year so having a year in the weight room to develop and grow within the system was beneficial.”
Gunner Smith returns as the starting quarterback for the Wildcats. As a junior, Smith threw for 1,602 yards and 14 touchdowns. In addition, he punched in four touchdowns on the ground.
“Gunner is a kid that has benefited from being thrown into the fire. We threw a whole lot at him. He's able to look at what the defenses are giving him. He's a kid that has really grown from the opportunities.”
At running back, The first snap will go to Matthew Melter. Dez Loving will also get a chance to carry the football. Freshman Corey Metscher will have a chance for some carries on the varsity level. Melter and Loving had similar numbers last year, combining for 358 yards on the ground.
“We didn't get to utilize Matt as much as we wanted to last year due to injuries,” Ginn said. “Matt is a defense-first guy, so if he ever needs a breather, we will look for the other two to get substantial carries.”
Receivers Devin Acklin and Drae Wood appear to be in line for a big year. Acklin had the most yards last year with 690. Wood had a few big games as a freshman. He finished the season with 243 yards and three scores.
“Both of those guys have a ton of athletic ability and are viable weapons who have benefitted from a year in the system. Devin is a guy who will make you miss and Drae is a glider. They bring two different skill sets to the table.”
The offensive line is a bit undersized, but every athlete on the offensive line is scrappy, Ginn said.
Cole Dyer returns as the starting center. He is a wrestler that is a workhorse in the weight room, Ginn said.
Kaden Stiles returns at right guard. Ryan Partain and Tyler Roberts both have a chance to contribute up front. Senior Hunter Gambill returns to the gridiron for the first time in a few seasons.
Gabel Ledbetter is a returning starter at left tackle and gives everything he has for an undersized lineman, Ginn said.
Josh Rooker will start on the defensive line and the rest of the down lineman will be on a rotation until the group gels, Ginn said.
Dez Loving will move to a linebacker position after playing defensive back last season. LW Moore will join him in the linebacker unit. Depending on the situation, Cache Hankins or Nathan Sanchez will get reps as well.
In the secondary, Wood and Jaylon Gordon will be on an island as coach Ginn relies on them to play a lot of one-on-one coverage.
Acklin will start at safety and Brynnen Epperly and Jesse Tucker will fight for the other safety spot.
Bethel starts the season at Tecumseh on Aug. 31. Kickoff is set for a 7:30 start.