LITTLE RIVER-ACADEMY, Texas — There is a buzz in Bell County as the Academy Bumblebees look to shock the state once again after clinching a playoff spot out of a wild District 11-3A I in 2020.
The Bees outdueled a few perennial powerhouses, including Cameron Yoe and Troy to earn that trip to the bi-district round in Head Coach Chris Lancaster's first season at the helm.
If they hope to return, they will need several young players to rise to the occasion. The Bees lost several key starters to graduation, including quarterback Jerry Cephus and wide receiver Kollin Mraz, who helped Academy develop a potent passing game in 2020.
Mraz's young brother Kasey will take over at quarterback in 2021, where he will try to connect with a deep receiving corps, including senior Darion Franklin and junior Scout Brazeal. Lancaster expects Brazeal to be a breakout star.
"We have a young group," Lancaster said. "So some of them have to step up and accept some of that responsibility. But I'm real excited about the talent we have and coaching staff and everything heading in the right direction."
The 2020 senior class left a resounding legacy, including a run to the state semifinals in basketball.
"It feels weird. I'm not playing with the boys I've been playing with forever," said Franklin, who was a major contributor for the Bees in basketball. "So, it's a little bit different, but it's gonna be fun. We're gonna be hard workers and gonna play fast."
Lancaster said he has seen his players develop into leaders during the offseason, a luxury he did not have during the COVID-affected 2020 season.
If the Bees hope to return to the playoffs through the "District of Death," they will need those new leaders to step up.
"It's gonna take a lot and I think our team works hard enough to get there. But it's not gonna be easy," Brazeal said.
Academy enters the season picked to finish 4th in 11-3A I.
"We're gonna have to be disciplined and play smart and play together," Franklin said. "We can beat anybody if we play together and play smart."
The Bees open the season against cross-county rival Rogers.