By now you’re well of aware of the star players for the UC football Bearcats. On defense Myjai Sanders, Sauce Gardner, and Coby Bryant are all expected to have the NFL tuning in to scout them. On the offensive side of the ball Des Ridder hopes to play his way into the Heisman conversation while leading the way with WR Alec Pearce and TE Josh Whyle catching whatever is thrown at them. Opposing teams have all of those names circled and will be preaching to their teams well in advanced to the week they play the Bearcats.
This article is to highlight the next guys up. You’ve probably heard of them before but still, they’re the less mentioned names that are set to have a huge impact on what could be a historic year for the Bearcats.
Malik Vann #42
How people sleep on Malik Vann I will never understand. Vann was a 4-star prospect who was ranked as the #2 defensive end recruit from Ohio and the #27 defensive end prospect in the nation, per Scout.com. A native of Fairfield, Ohio, Vann had Michigan State and Wisconsin high on his list of candidates before choosing to stay close to home and become a Hometown Hero. Since then Vann has helped protect the edge since his freshman year when he played in 12 games. He stepped up his game big time for his sophomore year in 2019 where he posted his best game against Ohio State with 5 tackles, 3 solos. Some will say he took a step back during the 2020 campaign but I think that means he’s primed for a breakout year in 2021. He’s responsible for almost 60 tackles and 6 sacks throughout his career at UC. At 6’4′ 275 lbs he’s a force to be reckoned with.
Assuming the Bearcats stick with 3 downed defensive linemen under new Defensive Coordinator Mike Tressel the Bearcats have a ton of experience here when you add in Myjai Sanders and Curtis Brooks. But even if they do throw in a four man front Vann is already set up to succeed because of his versatility. With Sanders getting a lot of attention on the scouting reports it would seem that the opponents running game could look to go the other way. Luckily for the Black Cats #42 will be there to with a finger wag ready to go. Not many people are throwing his name out right now when they talk about this defense. They will by season’s end.
CB Arqoun Bush #9
The junior cornerback from Cleveland has gotten better each and every year he’s been a Bearcat. For his career has 40 tackles, 28 solo, 10 passes defended and 4 INTs, one of which was a pick 6. He’s fast, smart, and can lay the wood. Just check out the video below of him singlehandedly stopping the 4th and 1 against Georgia in the Peach Bowl. What a hit! I’m looking for more of the same from Bush this year.
RB Jerome Ford #24
Ford is a strong, fast, and slippery running back with a jetpack on his back. After the 5’11” 215 lb running back spent his first two seasons at Alabama, Ford wasted no time making an impact for the Bearcats in 2020. Because of that productive 2020 season Ford is ready to step up and take the heavy load of being the Bearcats number one running back after spending last season behind Gerrid Doaks. In 2020 alone Ford rushed for 483 yards on 73 carries, and averaged 6.4 yards. He scored 8 touchdowns to top it all off. Ford has breakaway speed, hits the hole hard and fast, and can catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s ready to be featured in the offense and leave defenders in the dust.
WR Jadon Thompson #20
The Bearcats return 4 of their 5 leading receivers this season. The one loss being their top receiver Jayshon Jackson who transferred to Ball State. Thompson should be one of the guys who makes up for that lost production. The four-star prospect ranked as the #5 player in Illinois and a Top-60 wideout in the 2020 signing class. The 6’2″ Chicago native is a versatile receiver. Maybe he’ll be in the slot, maybe he’ll line up outside and be another deep threat for the Bearcats. With Alec Pearce likely to get banged up again this season Thompson should be ready if/when called upon.
WR Blue Smith #83
Blue is a product of Dayton’s Wayne High School, the 6’6″ athletic wide receiver was recruited by nearly all of the national blue bloods, Alabama, Notre Dame, Michigan, Tennessee, and Penn State, before committing to Ohio State. He redshirted for the Buckeyes in 2018 and was a Bearcat for the 2019 season where he played in six games catching 2 passes for 19 yards. It wasn’t ability, size, or talent that kept Smith off the field in 2020, it was injuries. When healthy Smith is a downfield threat on any play. If he’s healthy he’ll stretch the field for the Bearcats and be a deep target for Ridder.
Tre Tucker #7
I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t Tre Tucker a wide receiver? Yes, yes he is, and a solid one too. However, I love Tucker’s ability to see the gaps on returns because he has the speed to take advantage of what the defense gives him. Tucker was named Second-Team All-AAC at kick returner after leading the league with a 29.9 yards per return average. He totaled 13 returns for 389 yards and one TD. That TD was a 97-yarder against USF last season and it was the first for the Bearcats since the Liberty Bowl in 2011. It the AAC Championship against Tulsa Tucker had 4 returns for 111 yards that included a long of 30 yards. Tucker is a weapon on special teams. Let’s just hope opposing kickers keep sending it his way because once he catches it, he’s electric.