WARNER ROBINS -- The numbers on offense were huge and inspire plenty of talk.
If only, some said, Houston County’s defense could step up.
Myron Jacobs wouldn’t go so far as to say the defense didn’t step up, but he’s ready for a leap forward rather than a step.
“That’s the plan,” the versatile defender said. “Yeah, that’s the plan. Become more physical and aggressive on defense, be more sound.”
The unit received criticism during the Bears’ memorable 10-3 season in 2014, despite Houston County winning seven games by at least 25 points, five by 30 or more. But there were problems in the two most notable losses, 34-33 to Northside and 42-22 at Stockbridge in the playoffs.
The run-oriented Eagles trailed 33-20 with 10 minutes left in the game before a big rally. Then a more-balanced Stockbridge team gave up 20 first-quarter points, only to outscore the Bears 42-2 the rest of the way.
“Just communicating more on the field,” Jacobs said of an adjustment for this season. “That would help a lot more. Yeah. Just communicating.”
The Bears’ other regular-season loss was by four points at Lakeside-Evans, which was the best team in GHSA Region 2-AAAAA from the Augusta side.
Bears head coach Von Lassiter said his defense gets a raw deal, thanks in part to his team’s in-a-hurry offense.
“You look at Oregon, you look at Baylor, people that play fast,” he said. “And we’ve been told by several officials that we’re the fastest in the GHSA. You’re going to either score fast, or you’re going three-and-out.
“So your defense is going to have more plays. The more plays that they play, the more yards they’re going to give up, the more points they’re going to give up. Naturally, they get a bad rap.”
The Bears again will have a number of versatile players, like Jacobs, who can play at different levels. Houston County is bigger up front -- end Rontravious Byron added about 40 pounds and is set up for a big year -- and that unit is deep again, too.
No matter how good the defense does, Houston County’s offense gets plenty of attention. And that’s unlikely to change this season, even with less depth at running back and some new bodies up front.
Quarterback Jake Fromm’s selection of targets was already elite with Darion Anderson, Jaylen Searcy and the underrated Payton Johnson. But other players, like Eli Watson, are expected to add to the depth at the skill spots.
One minor question on offense is at tailback, where Kory Engram takes over for Kenny Gant. The pair made for a quality one-two punch that teamed for 2,094 yards. Engram scored 11 times on 124 carries, gaining 744 yards and averaging 6.0 yards per carry.
He’s smaller but faster than Gant and will have to become somewhat close to as proficient catching the ball as Gant, who had 37 receptions for 403 yards and seven touchdown in less than a full season.
“It’s something that’s gonna happen,” Engram said of his increased pass-catching duties. “This offense, it’s what we’re going to be doing.”
Chris Brinson, a transfer from Savannah who is also a defensive back, will take over the No. 2 role.
The offensive line will be a bit by committee and got a boost with the transfer of Trey Hill, all 6-foot-3, 305 pounds of him, from Macon County. But the unit has several players with experience.
And back is Fromm, owner of the eighth-best season in state history with 3,629 passing yards who needs only 116 yards to pass 5,000 for his young career in the season opener.
“Everybody wants to know now, ‘Can he do it again? Can he do it another year?’ ” Lassiter said. “He’s always challenging himself to be better. Not only does he have (this) year, he’s got another year after that.”
ABOUT THE HOUSTON COUNTY BEARS
Head coach: Von Lassiter (17-7 in two seasons overall and at Houston County).
Assistant coaches: Mike Chastain (offensive coordinator); Ryan Crawford (defensive coordinator); Rod Harris, Kevin Smith, Denny Maddox, Tim Bynum, Daniell Johnson, Kelly Chastain, Tom Seward, Jared Allen, Joe Scott.
Offensive scheme: Spread.
Defensive scheme: 4-3.
2014 record: 10-3.
Region: GHSA 2-AAAAA.
Returning starters: Seven on offense; seven on defense.
Players to watch: Darion Anderson (Sr., DB/WR); Jake Fromm (Jr., QB); Rontravious Byron (Sr., DE); Chase Riley (Sr., NT); Myron Jacobs (Sr., OLB); Bennie Steadman (Sr., MLB); Stefan Hill (Sr., DB); Payton Johnson (Sr., WR); Jaylen Searcy (Sr., WR); Malik Lawson (Sr., WR); Daniel Jackson (Sr., OL); Jordan Strevig (Sr., PK/P); Kory Engram (Sr., RB); Khenon Walker (Sr., TE); Simeon Tanner (Sr., OL); Grant Sanders (Sr., OL).
Aug. 27 Veterans
Sept. 5 Grovetown
Sept. 11 at Richmond Academy
Sept. 18 vs. Warner Robins
Sept. 25 Lakeside-Evans
Oct. 23 at Cross Creek
Oct. 16 at Jones County
Oct. 2 Greenbrier
Oct. 30 at Evans
Nov. 6 vs. Northside