WHITESBORO — There were some wholesale changes for the Bearcats last season. A new head coach stepped in after more than a decade of success by the previous regime. Several three-year starters, some contributing on both sides of the ball, left holes to be filled.
But the foundation at Whitesboro has been built to the point where it can handle those types of obstacles and still produce familiar results.
"Last year was a successful year, considering all the changes. It was a new way of doing everything," Bearcats head coach Cody Fagan said. "Once we figured out the kids’ strengths and weaknesses and got them in the right spots, we got rolling at the end of the year. We’re light years ahead of where we were at this point last year."
Whitesboro opened the playoffs with one of the biggest upsets in Class 3A, knocking off state-ranked Eastland, 30-21, in a bi-district match-up before bowing out against Bushland in the area round to finish with a 7-5 record. It was the sixth time in nine seasons the program made it to the second round.
The Bearcats were also third in a competitive District 4-3A (I), one spot better than in 2018.
Continuing that upward trajectory is the focus as Whitesboro enters its second season under Fagan, and will need to replace major pieces throughout the roster as the Bearcats try to extend their school record for playoff berths to 10.
On top of that, the senior class is trying to become the first at Whitesboro to see the program have a winning record every one of its high school years.
The competition for starting spots is fierce in several key areas. Among those who graduated were Tryston Gaines, who was the district’s Utility Player of the Year with 57 catches for 856 yards and eight touchdowns and 12 carries for 128 yards and two scores in addition to his play in the secondary; quarterback Cade Acker, who was 87-of-154 passing for 1,195 yards and 10 TDs with nine interceptions, led the team with 902 yards and eight touchdowns on 173 carries and was first-team all-district on both sides of the ball; first-team all-district linebacker and leading tackler Kasen Todd and a trio of first-team all-district linemen: Andrew Fletcher, Stephen Fuhrmann and Aaron Scorsone.
"We have lots of open spots," Fagan said. "The difference is we know these kids. We know what we have coming up. We have to get those kids adjusted to the speed of the varsity game."
Junior Jake Hermes and sophomore Mac Harper are in a battle to be the signal-caller. Hermes saw time at the varsity level last fall and completed 21-of-40 passes for 208 yards with a touchdown and an interception and ran for a pair of scores. Harper was the QB as the junior varsity finished 8-2.
"Jake did get varsity snaps but didn’t play whole games. Mac played every snap on the JV so he has more reps," Fagan said. "There’s a lot of similarities in the kids. It’s a good problem to have. Both of them are top ten athletes on the team, so they’ll be on the field for us somewhere."
When it comes to the running back spot, senior Devon Price returns after 119 carries for 524 yards and four touchdowns. Classmate Sutton Fuhrmann chipped in 13 carries for 106 yards and a TD in a reserve role and sophomore Geyson Ledbetter could provide some relief in the backfield as well.
As a slot/back, junior Jacob Smith was first-team all-district after totaling 11 receptions for 116 yards and two TDs and chipped in 67 carries for 207 yards and two touchdowns. Other receiving options will be senior Major Ledbetter, who had five catches for 40 yards and a touchdown, juniors Sean Schares and Torran Naglestad and sophomore Reid Thompson, who transferred from Pottsboro.
Whitesboro’s biggest holes to fill — figuratively and literally — come on the offensive line, as all five starters need to be replaced. There are six Bearcats in a battle to earn those spots. Senior Wade Graves is the only one with previous varsity playing experience, although juniors Keegan Masson and Jadin Hedges were backups. Senior Caden Cobb returns to football after not playing last fall, while juniors Julian Chavez and Marshal Kownlton round out the competition.
On defense, the strength of the unit will come at linebacker. Smith and Price, who was second on the team in tackles, return on the inside while Major Ledbetter, who started in the secondary in 2019, and Schares are on the outside.
The line has the most new faces on this side of the ball as well; Chavez is the only lineman who could end up seeing time up front here. Junior Paul Velten missed a large chunk of last season with an ankle injury and is slated to be the anchor of the group. Hermes and senior Canyon Parker are also expected to factor in here.
"We don’t have a lot of big bodies," Fagan said. "We’re trying to keep the guys starting on the offensive line from playing defense as well."
Fuhrmann is moving from outside linebacker to safety, joined by junior Kayden Unclebach at one corner spot. The other two spots in the secondary will come from Harper, Naglestad and senior Conner Jacobs.
Junior kicker Jorge Montes was a first-team all-district selection while Smith will again serve as the punter.
Whitesboro will have a familiar road to the playoffs because the latest realignment left District 4-3A (I) almost exactly the same. The Bearcats will again spend the next two years battling Pilot Point, Bowie, Brock, Boyd, Paradise and Ponder as well as newcomer Peaster, which was a late addition to the district as it will play varsity football for the first time.
Brock and Pilot Point met the Region I final, while Boyd was the other postseason qualifier in addition to the Bearcats.
"Our intention is to compete for a district championship," Fagan said. "That’s the mindset we’re going in with."