Bell ready to hit the line with Thomas

Published 1:25 pm Friday, August 18, 2023


Contributing writer

It seems there are very few constants in life, but there are some.

Email newsletter signup



Bell County power football.

For more than 30 years, legendary Bobcat coach Dudley Hilton has based his offensive scheme on running the football with a tailback who is both durable and dynamic, which perfectly describes current Bell standout, Daniel Thomas.

The senior all-state candidate had a banner season in 2022, rushing for 2,228 yards and 29 touchdowns for the 10-3 Bobcats behind a powerful offensive line that paved the way for Thomas and the graduating Dawson Woolum’s 1,127 yards.

However, Thomas will likely be called on to shoulder the load even more in 2023 due to the graduations of Woolum and Ethan Raby. The cupboard isn’t completely bare, though. The Bobcats return several key pieces that could help soften the blow, including Hayden Canady, Blake Evans and Hayden Damron.

In a recent interview on The Big One Sports Network, Hilton discussed the importance of building the program to help soften the blows of losing talented players and continuing success from year to year.

“We have put the hay in the barn. We build our program to replace graduates from year to year. That’s why we play freshman and JV games as well as middle school to develop our talent,” he said. “That’s why we’ve been successful.”

Sophomore quarterback Blake Burnett stepped into his brother Cameron’s role as signal caller last season and performed well, passing for 947 yards and 10 touchdowns. However, Burnett loses his main receiver George Pace. Candidates to fill that role include Canady, Joseph Brigmon, Elijah Hampton, and Holden Clark.

Up front, Bell will be led by powerful tackle Brayden Dunn, who returns to anchor a line that has a bevy of underclassmen on the roster who provide the blocking up front, including guards Peyton Williams and Braydon Thomas, center Brody Patterson, and tackle Jackson Pratt.

Defensively, the Bobcats will be led by Blake Evans and Hayden Damron. The duo combined for nearly 200 tackles between them as well as 25 tackles for losses and 11 sacks. Thomas also added 87 tackles (six for losses) and five sacks.

Although Bell loses Raby at his linebacker position, the Bobcats return several players who had double-digit tackles in 2022 including defensive backs Canady and Burnett, and Dunn at defensive tackle.

A change for Bell County includes the addition of Clay County to 3A District 7 play in addition to returning Knox Central, Rockcastle County, and McCreary Central. The Rockets added North Laurel transfers Tucker Warren and Austin Johnson and the Raiders recently named former Bell assistant Sam Marple head coach in Stearns. This promises to be a balanced and competitive district schedule in 2023.

The non-district schedule for the Cats includes home dates with Letcher Central and Harlan County. The away portion of the schedule provides tests at North Laurel, Boyd County, Perry Central, and Whitley County.

The Bobcats, though, will be prepared and ready for the challenges of 2023.

Like the three constants.



Aug. 18 at North Laurel

Aug 25 at Boyd County

Sep 1 vs. Letcher Central

Sep 8 at Perry County Central

Sep 15 at Whitley County

Sep 22 at McCreary Central

Sep 29 vs. Rockcastle County

Oct 6 vs. Knox Central

Oct 20 at Clay County

Oct 27 vs. Harlan County