Tuesday, June 01, 2010

SPORTS>>Class act lifts Bears’ numbers

Leader sportswriter

Solid strides in the classroom have led to more bodies on the field for the Sylvan Hills Bears this spring.

A number of potential players were forced to sit out last season because of inadequate grades, leaving coach Jim Withrow with a skeleton crew of 28 players last summer. But as the grades have improved, the numbers have come up in the locker room, with 53 players dressing out for the two weeks of spring practice.

That’s the good news for Sylvan Hills. The bad news is that even with the additions, there are only five returning starters on both sides of the football, and only eight players with significant varsity experience.

“It’s pretty much rebuild and teaching — a lot of teaching,” Withrow said. “We’re getting there, it’s just baby steps. It’s a total rebuild, no doubt about it.”

Last year, the Bears had plenty of experience, but suffered injuries to a number of key players early in the season. They lost their first five games before winning four of their last five, including a dramatic 13-12 victory over Beebe in Week 10 to grab the fourth and final playoff seed out of the 5A Southeast Conference.

“If everybody’s eligible, we’ve got a chance to get in there and get competitive,” Withrow said. “We’ve harped on them and harped on them, but the ball’s in their court now. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

There are plenty of candidates to fill the quarterback position vacated by senior Jordan Spears. The list includes baseball standouts Blake Rasdon and Michael Maddox, who are returning after missing a year of football, along with Justin Cook, Demarcus Wilson and Jamal Love.

“We run three huddles and all of them run them,” Withrow said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s the ninth grade, first group, second group — they’ve all been in there. It literally is an open deal.”

Withrow is also looking at Wilson and Cook in running back roles. Trey Bone also returns to fill out the running back depth chart.

“I’m telling you, we’re just trying to figure out where we’re at,” Withrow said. “I’m not going to tell you we’ve got the whole puzzle, but we’ve got some pieces. We just have to figure out where they go.”

The plan for the summer is practices with scrimmages on Mondays and Thursdays in July instead of the normal weightlifting sessions.

The Bears will still lift weights, but Withrow said with the amount of knowledge the young group needs, it is just as important the players know how to line up and understand game situations.

Withrow said the Bears will not take part in any 7-on-7 games and the team may attend a camp late in the summer.

Returning defensive tackle Alex Smith is on the short list of experienced defenders, but one area in which Withrow already has confidence is the offensive line.

“Our size as a whole, I think we just look like an average-looking high-school team,” Withrow said. “But I do like our offensive line. That’s one thing we’ve talked about out there is we like our offensive line.”

Withrow has taken his team to the playoffs every season since taking over in 2007, including a trip to the 6A state semifinals his first year. He said the improved numbers are not just a reflection of better grades, but also of continued tradition.

“I think tradition is one of those things where it helps,” Withrow said. “We’ve won in every sport. We’ve had our good days and our bad days; for the most part, we’ve had good things.

“Having quality teams and quality coaching has been a big deal. And that’s been going on well before I ever showed up. We’ve just kind of kept it going.”