Bearcats Football Season Preview: Senior depth

The Bearcats have 21 seniors and 14 returning starters for the 2023 season. Wide receiver Antavious Murphy and running back Keenan Phillips stand out from the veteran group, receiving double-digit college offers. 

Littleton said this group of seniors is one of the biggest he’s had in his 11-year tenure as the Bearcats’ head coach. He mentioned that the seniors have built a tradition of making deep playoff runs. The group made it to the semi-finals of the state tournament in 2020 and the quarterfinals in 2021 and 2022. 

“They’re very, very excited about continuing that and going further,” Littleton said

Offense

Senior quarterback Cam Sanders leads the Bearcats this season. Sanders has a cannon of an arm and plays an athletic quarterback style, using his legs to gain yardage when he can’t find an open pass. Sanders plays basketball and football, and Quarterbacks Coach Mike Harville says he uses that experience to his advantage as a passer.

“He’s kind of like a point guard,” Harville said. “Sometimes you’re flashy passing and things like that. He’s always got some tricks up his sleeve.”

Senior running back Keenan Phillips assumes the lead back role, with seniors Javon Cox and Travious Freeman playing alongside him. The trio has been playing since 7th grade, and Running Backs Coach Larry Crosby said each guy brings a distinct flair to the offense.

“With Phillips, he’s a combination back that can do both,” Crosby said, “Freeman, we call him our bruiser, and Cox our finesse guy.”

Phillips, a three-star recruit, has gained national recognition. He has received 13 offers from college football programs across the nation.

Wide Receivers Coach Blake Cecil said his receiver group this season has a family-like bond. The squad is made up entirely of returning players, most being upperclassmen. 

“Everybody knows the expectations, and they do a good job of holding each other accountable,” Cecil said. “It makes the locker room better.”

Seniors Antavious Murphy, Darius Mills, Corey Sanders, and juniors Luke Griffin and Camryn “Scoop” Scott make up the wide receiver core. Junior Antavious Harris and sophomores Jah’Bari Smith and Nekorian Thomas round out the depth. Murphy is the standout of the group. The three-star prospect has 15 college offers on the table. 

Protecting them is an offensive line that has grown bigger in number and size over the offseason. The line is made up of four returning starters and a group of developing sophomores to give depth. The team has a handful of 300-pounders to “finally” give the team some size, according to Offensive Line Coach Justin Palmer.

The 2023 Bearcat offense excels in athleticism, giving them an edge over their opponents and giving fans entertaining play to watch.

“I don’t think you want to get up and go to the concession stand in the middle of the game,” Harville said. “You’re liable to miss something.”

Defense

The Bearcat Defense looks to build a cohesive unit this season. 

The defensive line has two key starters returning, seniors Bradle Marshburn and Don’Terrius Williams. Defensive Line Coach Brian McCorkle is looking to them to lead the line this season. Marshburn said the line will use speed to its advantage.

“We’re not the biggest line, but we’re fast,” Marshburn said. “We try to out-speed our opponents and be more physical than they are.”

The Linebackers will be the “quarterback of the defense” this year, according to Linebackers coach Jahseari Patterson. He said senior Javon Cox will lead the group.

“We lean into having a high IQ and knowing and knowing exactly what to do, Putting yourself in the right position to make a play,” Patterson said.

The defensive backs have several returning players. Senior cornerback Jace Weaver said their experience with each other will benefit them.

“Knowing that we ain’t lost nobody, and now we know the coverages and how to communicate with each other, it’s gonna be pretty good to see,” Weaver said.

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