CLEVELAND, Tenn. — As a four-year starter at a key position, Bradley Central quarterback Bryce Copeland gets a lot of headlines. Mammoth offensive lineman Austin Sanders gets attention, too, since he's committed to play for the University of Tennessee.
Running backs Logan Fetzner and Baylor Terrell have each gone over the 150-yard mark in a game, with the former topping 200 in a season-opening win over Polk County. And the defense has come up big in big moments, due to big plays all around.
Yet the biggest question coming into the Bears' season was at none of those positions. It was the receiving corps, which lost James Stovall to the Naval Academy and dual-threat back Justin Houston to Tusculum College.
Although the answers haven't won headlines, they've won games.
The trio of Cal Pickel, Caleb Cain and Dee Crisp have combined for 86 catches, 1,228 yards and eight touchdowns. Each has had a standout performance this season, and all have given the Bears a chance to win their first district championship in quite some time, should they defeat McMinn County tonight in Athens.
"I don't think they get the credit they're deserved," Bradley coach Damon Floyd said.
"It was something that Coach preached to us all offseason, that the media was going to question how we'd replace our skill players from last year," Pickel said.
It doesn't matter because the three don't care. They've all accepted their roles as being a part of the receiving corps in general.
"We all want to be the best, but we like to see each other do well," said Crisp, the big-play threat. "If I have to block all game, I'll do it. I like to go celebrate with Caleb in the end zone; I want to sprint 30 yards downfield to congratulate Cal after a big play."
Said Cain: "We're teammates, but we're brothers."
Cain said the receivers have a friendly competition to see who has the most touchdowns, a battle Crisp currently leads after scoring his fourth against Cleveland last week. After being stuck behind Stovall last season, he's getting his chance to show his skill in 2012.
"Cal and Caleb have both been starters on this team prior to this season," Floyd said. "We felt Dee had potential, but we had no idea how good he was. He had a lot of potential, but we didn't know we'd get as many big plays as we've had."
After being considered one of the top teams in the area throughout the 2011 season, the Bears were knocked off their pedestal with a loss to the Cherokees in a "winner-take-all" district championship game last year -- a game most expected the Bears to win on their home field. This season, the roles are reversed, as the Cherokees have been riding high with an 8-1 record and unblemished in District 5-AAA, while the Bears need a win to secure an automatic berth into the playoffs.
"We enter the game with a chip on our shoulder," Pickel said. "It was a big game last year, and they took it to us. This year we can have the same reward with a win over them.
"It would be nice to beat a rival with so much on the line."
n Copeland needs 23 yards tonight against McMinn County to break the area record for passing yards in a career. He's at 5,909, trailing only 2007-10 Rhea County standout Cameron Tallent's 5,931.
Copeland has 27 wins as a starter, which is one fewer than Bradley had the eight previous years.
"He's meant a lot to the program," Floyd said. "It's rare that you have a four-year starter that has been as good as he's been. He's won a lot of games and has been a big factor in the turnaround of this program."