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‘Not to be selfish’: Two-way players dot Bulldogs’ roster

NEDERLAND (0-3) AT SANTA FE (1-2)

12-5A-II FOOTBALL; 7:30 P.M. FRIDAY, INDIAN STADIUM, 16000 TEXAS HIGHWAY 6, SANTA FE; KLVI-AM 560

NEDERLAND — The Babe Ruth 16- to 18-year-old World Series began two days before preseason camp at Nederland commenced. Rene Cunningham’s difficult decision wasn’t all that difficult to him.

“It’s football season,” Cunningham said. “I cared more about the football team than I did with that right there. I’m closer with these boys.”

Instead of joining Mid-County Senior Babe Ruth on its trip to Mobile, Ala., in hopes of winning a championship, Cunningham put up his bat and glove for the year and began his junior season preparing for Nederland’s title defense in District 12-5A Division II.

Landon Hiltz made a similar decision as a junior two years ago. Hiltz gave up a trip to Ephrata, Wash., where Mid-County won its first world title, but went on to intercept seven passes that year for the Bulldogs.

Bryson Garrett

Nederland coach Monte Barrow did not influence Cunningham’s decision in any way.

“I don’t tell them, ‘You have to do this or you have to do that. You’re the one that made the commitment both ways, but where do you want to be?’” Barrow said. “It wasn’t a hard decision for Rene.”

Any unselfishness Cunningham displayed in his decision to join the football team has been translated onto the football field. Cunningham hasn’t solely played receiver this season, moving to safety for the home game against Silsbee on Sept. 13 when junior Kerrington Broussard dealt with sickness.

“Coach said not to be selfish,” Cunningham said. “We need to do what the team needs. They put me on defense because they need me. I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do for the team.”

He’s not the only two-way threat in Nederland.

Starting cornerbacks Cedric Pete and Logan Nguyen have been used as receivers at times, and fellow senior wideout Bryson Garrett backs up as a cornerback. Even multi-position offensive threat Kyndon Fuselier did work on defense as a freshman last year.

If no one has to play two ways, Barrow said he tries not to let that happen.

“We’re going to put the best team we can on the field,” he said. “If it works out some years that it means we have no one going both ways at all, that’s great. It means the kids are out playing and we’re keeping people fresh. If it takes somebody to do both, whatever the necessity is — the higher necessity — they’ll get the majority of their rest on the other side of the ball.”

Cunningham ranks as the Bulldogs’ fourth-leading receiver (three catches, 35 years), two catches behind Garrett (78 yards). Fuselier’s 20 for 303 yards ranks only behind Barbers Hill junior Cameron Cauley in 12-5A-II, with junior running back Josh Mazyck ranking ninth in the district with seven catches for 49 yards.

Imagine the competition in practice.

“We see who can get the ball more and can get open the most,” Garrett said.

Garrett is tied with two others for 10th in the district, making an impact in his lone season at Nederland. He was ruled ineligible for the 2018 season as a transfer from West Brook, which played for the 6A Division II championship last December.

Asked what he saw in Nederland’s program, Garrett said: “Everybody’s all one. Nobody’s left behind.”

A natural with great hands, as Barrow described, Garrett’s fit with the team coming from a 6A school caught the coach’s attention.

“Coming from West Brook, a bigger school, you may have a bigger chip on your shoulder that, ‘I’m the guy’ or whatever, but he’s fit in great with this team, which I think is bigger than anything, and they have faith and confidence in him being on the field,” Barrow said. “He’s going to make some big plays for us this year.”

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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