New class and new challenges for 10-time state champs from Bridgeport

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — An old nemesis was defeated and a tenth state championship trophy made its way back to Johnson Avenue last December. The Bridgeport Indians avenged a pair of semifinal defeats in 2017 and 2018 by defeating Bluefield 21-14 in the Class AA state championship game.

“It was a dream come true,” said Bridgeport senior lineman Tanner Saltis. “Hopefully we can do it again this year. It was definitely amazing.”

“It was very special,” said Bridgeport senior running back/linebacker J.T. Muller. “It is once in a lifetime to go win a state championship. But we are hoping to get a shot at doing it again.”

While the players celebrated, the coaching staff quickly pivoted to a daunting new challenge. For the first time in eight years, Bridgeport moved up to the state’s largest classification in Class AAA. New opponents on their schedule include playoff programs Parkersburg South, Musselman and Huntington.

“This is one of our toughest schedules we have had at this school in a long time,” said Bridgeport head coach John Cole. “It is going to be different and they are going to have to play really well and play really hard just to survive to the end of the year to hopefully make the playoffs.”

The script for success is woven into the fabric of the Bridgeport football program. A run-dominated offense has underwent some tweaks in recent years and may do so again this fall with a new element.

“At the skill positions we have some younger kids that we think, sophomores and juniors, that have a little bit of better speed,” Cole said. “I am not talking world-class speed but for Bridgeport High School, they’ve got a little bit of speed.”

The entire Bridgeport starting backfield of Super Six MVP Carson Winkie, Trey Pancake, Devin Vandergrift and Brian Henderson has graduated. Junior Cam Cole is the presumptive starter at quarterback. Seniors J.T. Muller and J.D. Love will also return to the backfield.

“We need kids that can block,” Cole said. “It is great to have those skill kids, but we’ve got a couple of backs that are going to be blocking on every play.”

At the point of attack, the Indians must replace all-stater Michael Watkins but the bulk of line returns.

“We’ve got three starters coming back,” Cole said. “So that makes me feel a lot better. Our center is coming back so that makes Coach (Tyler) Phares and I a lot more comfortable. And we’ve got some younger kids that have put in some time. They got a little bit of playing time last year and we think can play.”

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