By Nate Thompson

RAVENNA – In Ravenna’s best games last season, scoring wasn’t a problem.

The Bulldogs adopted well to a pass-heavy spread offense implemented by first-year head coach Doug Samuels, scoring 30 or more points seven times.

But keeping foes out of the end zone was the Bulldogs’ downfall, namely against West Michigan Conference heavyweights Montague, Oakridge and Whitehall. Ravenna gave up 140 points combined to those three opponents, all losses.

“Last year, it was a mindset of bend but not break,” said Samuels, whose squad finished 5-4 and was left out of the playoffs. “We could score with the best of them for seven out of nine weeks. But we couldn’t get the stops when we needed them. This year, we want to take command at the line of scrimmage and be more aggressive.”

It could also help that senior All-State receiver Josh Cox, arguably the Bulldogs’ top athlete, urged coaches to place him in the defensive backfield this fall to help improve their porous pass defense.

Josh Cox

“In the offseason, he asked the coaches to play defense,” Samuels said. “He’s a kid that wants to be on the field and never leave it. He understands routes and tendencies of receivers, so he’ll be a key part of the secondary.

“It’s really an example of a kid wanting to be more of a leader by example.”

Cox said the decision was based solely on this being his senior season, and his desire to lay it all on the line for an opportunity at postseason glory.

“With it being my last season here, I wanted to play both ways,” he said. “You can talk about being a leader, but by doing this, I think it’s a big statement that I want to be a leader on this team and help us any way possible. And I feel I’m really good at pass defense, and that was one of our weaknesses last year.

“So far, I think we’re more disciplined (on defense) this year and focusing on our keys,” Cox added. “Last year, we were too selfish, with guys looking to make the big tackle instead of following our reads and being in position to make the right play.”

If Cox’s skills in the secondary are anywhere close to his talents as a receiver, the Bulldogs should flourish.

A year ago, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Cox earned Division 7-8 first team All-State honors after totaling 888 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. Samuels said he’s in the top three in school history for career receiving yards and could be tops in the record books after this season wraps up.

Josh Cox reaches up to make a catch for Ravenna.

Combined with fellow receivers Calvin Schullo and Jack Emery and tight end/receiver hybrid Grant Parker, as well as returning all-conference quarterback Connor Kilbourne, the Bulldogs’ offense should be fearsome through the air again. A year ago, they put up 367 points, an average of 40 per game.

Samuels said Cox will lead the way, noting that he has to improve his physicality in blocking, but has great hands, runs precise routes and has tremendous speed. He placed sixth in the 400-yard dash at last spring’s Division 3 state track and field finals with a time of 51.4 seconds.

But Cox said his favorite sport is in the winter on the basketball court. The sweet-shooting guard led the Bulldogs to a 15-win season last year.

“It’s just something I’ve always enjoyed the most,” he said. “It’s just something different about it. I really didn’t like playing football until high school.”

He played AAU basketball throughout the summer with the West Michigan’s Finest, but still didn’t miss a weight-lifting session or 7-on-7 camp for football. That’s because there’ are certain goals that Cox wants to achieve in his final season on the gridiron, before moving on to the basketball court.

“I remember when I was a kid, Ravenna made it to the semifinals (in 2008) and I went and watched them up in Traverse City,” Cox recalled. “If we push ourselves every day, we believe we can be a team that can accomplish something like that.”