DEXTER -- Coming off last season's state quarterfinal appearance, the Dexter Bearcats will enter the 2011 season with higher expectations than in years past.
Luckily for the Bearcats, most of the playmakers that drove their run to the Class 3 quarterfinals will return for one more shot at the postseason.
"The kids have high expectations for themselves," Dexter coach Aaron Pixley said. "They understand that our schedule is very tough and that if we don't show up to play every Friday night that we can be beat.
"It's just one of those things where if you had success the year before and you have a number of kids back, then people are going to put these expectations on you and rightfully so."
Leading the charge on offense once again will be all-region selection Cody Stevens. In his first year as the Bearcats' quarterback last season, Stevens, then a junior, helped guide his team to a 6-4 regular season record before winning back-to-back playoff games.
Stevens threw for 1,894 yards and 23 touchdowns on the year while running for 492 yards and eight scores.
"He really got better as he went (through the year)," Pixley said. "I think the game slowed down for him because early on in the the season everything was very fast and he was a very young quarterback at the time.
"Once he started really learning how to do things and be consistent, things really started to slow down and he was making great decisions. He's very athletic to do some of the things he does."
The Bearcats will be without several key weapons in last year's run, however, and that includes all-state selection and all-around ball hawk Jake Cox, who was lost to graduation. Cox caught 30 passes for 648 yards last year on offense while picking off nine passes as a safety.
He was one of three all-state selections Dexter lost to graduation, the others being tight end Morgan Hedrick and defensive end Aaron Mace.
Trying to fill the gap at receiver will be senior Tyler Miller and junior Chase Young. Miller had 15 catches for 273 yards and three touchdowns last year while Young caught 12 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns.
In the backfield, Pixley said he will once again trust the bulk of the work to Nick Summers and Joshua Overall.
"The Summers and Overall kids got the bulk of the carries last year and they will get the bulk of the carries this year," Pixley said. "That's two kids who rushed for over 700 yards apiece, so that's not a bad tandem to have.
"You'd always like to have a 1,000 yard rusher, but you have two kids doing the same thing. That's pretty good."
They will be aided in their efforts by the fact that the Bearcats return three starters on the offensive line, including all-region selections Zach Lacy, Brandon Moore and Jacob Stephens.
If there's a key area his team needs to focus on this season, Pixley said it's giving up big games against strong teams.
"We gave up 40-plus points four times last year," said Pixley "Other than those four games we were a pretty tough defense, but it was against four very good teams.
"So we have to prove we can defend high-profile offenses because we didn't do a very good job of it last year."
The Bearcats will face their first test when when host the Ste. Genevieve Dragons on Friday at 7 p.m.
Ste. Genevieve opened last season with a 41-25 win over Dexter before the Bearcats turned around and claimed a 49-28 win over the Dragons in the first round of the playoffs.
"We haven't beaten Ste. Genevieve in week one very often around here," Pixley said. "We've done it two or three times, but they've done it to us more times than we've done it to them.
"Anytime you can go 1-0 it just feels real good to get off to a good start."