Bridgeport boasts experienced youth
BRIDGEPORT — Expectations are high as Bridgeport enters season three under head coach Fred Ray. The Bulldogs have plenty of offensive talent back from a 1-9 campaign, but stopping the opponent and injuries are still concerns.
The Bulldogs have only have two seniors on the 2020 roster, those being Jon Bugaj (5-9, 180) and Christian Waterman (5-7, 150).
“We’ve got a lot of kids that were thrown into the fire to say and they are two of them,” Ray said of his roster. “The freshmen and sophomores are now sophomores and juniors, so we’ve got a lot of game experience. However, we’re still young, but I feel we will be a lot better than last year. A lot of the kids have more experience.
“We’ve got mid 20s to low 30s,” Ray said of his numbers. “We might get a few (players) after school starts, but the players that have been here all summer are the ones that we need to be here every day.”
The offense will be the same as the first two years under Ray’s watch. The Bulldogs will mix it up between the pass and the run, depending on what the opposing defenses are showing them.
Sophomore Colin Jackson (6-2, 180) returns after a full season under center last year when he threw for 1,269 yards and nine TDs on 106-of-254. He did, however, throw 17 interceptions.
“He’s grown a few inches and he’s about 20 pounds heavier. His arm has gotten stronger, as well,” Ray said of his quarterback. “He’s a smart, young kid who is still developing. The mental side of it (the game) will come along as he gets more reps, but he’s made a big jump from a freshman to a sophomore.”
Although just a sophomore, Jackson is being counted on to be the leader offensively for the Black-and-Blue.
“Colin is a quiet leader. He knows what needs to be done and he works hard at it,” Ray pointed out. “He also leads by example. With us having a small senior class, we’re counting on a lot of leadership from Colin.”
Serving as his backup is classmate Mason Aberts (5-9, 150) who will see time at wideout when not spelling Jackson.
“Mason has gotten a lot of reps this summer,” Ray noted. “He’s coming along.”
Jon Bugaj is the second leading returning rusher with 298 yards and three touchdowns coming on just 46 carries, an average of nearly 6.5 yards per carry. He trails younger brother Joey Bugaj (5-8, 160) who ran for 478 yards on 100 totes and scored a pair of six-pointers as a freshman last season.
Jon Bugaj also caught 16 passes for 135 yards, making him the top returning pass catcher.
“Joey can be really good for a sophomore. He had a decent freshman season,” Ray allowed. “Jon can get the big yards for us and both have pretty good speed.”
Waterman will also see time in the backfield, as well as wide receiver. Sophomore Peyton Pyle (5-7, 145) will also see time at both positions. He played primarily on defense last year when he lettered. Freshman Michael Marshall (5-8, 155) is also expected to see playing time in the backfield.
“We’ve got some pretty good options in the backfield and in our wideouts,” Ray admitted. “They are all still young, but most of them have some playing time under their belts.”
Other potential receivers include juniors Sean White (5-8, 145) and Aiden Tarr (5-7, 145); sophomore Jason Aubrey (5-8, 140); and freshmen Lamar Kendricks (5-6, 140), Quinton Burlenski (5-9, 145), Alex Moore (5-7, 140), Ben Holskey (5-9, 145) and Justin Myers (5-6, 135).
The only tight end listed is sophomore Asher Stockwell (6-2, 180). He could also see time on the interior line.
The offensive line is another area where the Bulldogs seem to be strong as four players that saw extensive time the last two seasons are back.
“We’ve got four returnees on the offensive line who all got thrown into the fire as freshmen and sophomores. It’s their time to step up and perform,” Ray added. “They’ve been working hard all summer at getting bigger, stronger and faster.”
Those four are juniors Taylor Day (5-10, 220), Andrew Billos (5-9, 195), Max Stopski (5-10, 245) and Cody Swauger (5-9, 170). They all have good size.
Rounding out the trenchmen are junior Jacob Powell (5-10, 210) and freshmen Kavone Allison (5-8, 150), Noah Strong (5-9, 200), Law Chambers (5-9, 170) and Nathan Galownia (5-9, 170).
Defense was a problem last year as the Bulldogs couldn’t seem to stop anyone.
“We’ve got a lot of kids back on this side. We’ll rely on our front seven or eight to get pressure on the quarterback because we will be young in the secondary,” Ray continued.
The front four includes Day, Billos, Stopski and Swauger. Backups are Stockwell, Allison, Powell, Strong, Chambers and Galownia.
The linebackers are an athletic bunch in the Brothers Bugaj, Aberts and Marshall.
Pyle is back at the corners. He played well as freshman. Also competing for playing time are Kendricks, Burlenski, Waterman, Moore, Jackson, Holskey, White, Aubrey, Tarr and Myers.
For the second consecutive season, the Bulldogs’ schedule has undergone a change due to the coronavirus, and more could be coming.
“I’m curious as to how this all shakes out,” Ray said of dealing with the global COVID-19 pandemic and the surrounding circumstances and state-mandated requirements. “I hope (the state of) West Virginia sticks it out because we’ve got three West Virginia teams still on our schedule. We’ve already picked up Federal Hocking for Game 1 after our opening game with Weirton Madonna was postponed.
“We’ve done really well with the COVID-19 precautions and abiding by the requirements that were handed down,” Ray said. “We’ve been keeping our social distancing and stuff like that.”
For the third year in a row, Bridgeport will not have the luxury of playing on Perkins Field inside Bill Jobko Stadium due to flooding concerns.
The Bulldogs will once again call the artificial turf at the Dave Bruney Football Complex in Martins Ferry home.
They played their home games there last year after splitting the home contests with St. Clairsville’s Red Devil Stadium two seasons ago.
The Dogs schedule, like all others in Ohio, was slashed to six regular season games, but everyone will have the option to play in the postseason, which begins in Week 7. Teams that bow out of the tournament will have the opportunity to play additional regular season games.
Bridgeport opens with a lengthy road trip to Athens County to take on Federal Hocking in Stewart. That game came to fruition when Madonna had to push its season back a week.
Ray’s coaching staff has just one new face as Bridgeport alum Dylan Nowakowski comes aboard. He joins defensive coordinator Larry Deem, Cole Smelley, Greg Honecker and Dennis Kasper. Ray will continue to call the plays as offensive coordinator.
“That’s another big bonus with the continuity of our staff,” Ray noted. “The coaches know the players and the players know the coaches.”
Bridgeport lost just four players to graduation — Izaac Jozwiak, Zach Kuneff, Devin Danehart and Skyler Hatten — but all four were integral parts of the team. Of that group, only Jozwiak will continue his playing career at the next level at Geneva College. The fleet-footed do-everything amassed nearly 1,000 yards of offense and on special teams last season.
“As a junior Izaac played half a season for us and last year he missed a couple games due to concussion protocol. It’s nice that he is getting a chance to play college football,” Ray said of his jack-of-all-trades last season. “We’re still young as far as having a lot of juniors and sophomores and a big freshmen class, but the kids know that I preach to them everyday that the hard work you put in is the results you get.”
Kuneff and Danehart were two-way performers, as was Hatten who caught 18 passes for 237 yards and three TDs last season.