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Senior Leadership Will Be Hard to Replace; Over-Achieving Panthers Made Community Proud
Last summer Knightstown football players were experiencing a little shock at how hard their new coach wanted them to practice and condition for the upcoming season.
There was so much work to do and some much information to absorb that it was overwhelming to some of players.
After 39 years a new coach was running the show. The starring cast from the 2005 season had graduated – nearly the entire starting lineup on both sides of the ball. Coach Bob Prescott inherited a roster that included just seven seniors.
The coach put a new system in place that in no way resembled what the players had seen the prior season. Even the seniors – some in their sixth year of organized football – were starting all over. There were new blocking schemes, a new and much tougher conditioning ritual, and a much more complicated system on both offense and defense. There was a new emphasis on the weight room and dedication to becoming stronger.
There were plenty of bumps, too. Early in the season a few players were complaining about how hard they had to work and what was expected of them. It was still high school football, but it was a completely different game. Not everyone on the roster at the beginning of the season was still there at the end. After a 2-1 start, the team hit rock-bottom. They lost five straight games and dropped to 2-6 on the season. There were turnovers – lots of turnovers – and the frustration level could have peaked and the situation gotten ugly.
But it didn’t.
Instead, the opposite happened.
“It’s obviously not an easy situation with a new coaching coming in,” Prescott said. “They easily could have caved in when we had the five game losing streak and we were 2-6. That’s the biggest testimonial to the seniors we had on this team. They were the real reason we were able to win three straight and play for a sectional championship.”
That senior leadership stepped up and showed the underclassmen how to win.
Brandon Grubbs, Nathan Hibbert, Tyler Smoot, Andrew Duncan, Chris Garrett, Jordan Kline and Cain Robertson played their last football game Friday night against Eastern Hancock.
“I enjoyed our seniors so much this year and I’m very appreciative of the way they handled the transition,” Prescott said Monday night. “Tonight was really hard on everyone. The players handed in their equipment and that’s always pretty tough.”
When the team dropped to 2-6 the season appeared to be spinning out of control.
The team was closing out the regular season against Tri-County in a game all the players knew they should win. That’s when Brandon Grubbs stood on the sideline and told me it was time for this team to start playing Panther football.
Chris Garrett told me he was tired of losing.
The team won 48-0. They then punished Northeastern, who entered the game with a 6-3 record and aspirations of a sectional title. That final was 29-6 and the Tri Titans were up next.
The team completed the full circle by defeating Tri 32-29 to get a shot at a sectional title.
It was a position few people, if any, expected this team to be in.
Eastern Hancock defeated the Panthers 35-7, but the game wasn’t as lopsided as that final score. Costly turnovers – something that had plagued the team all season long – ultimately led to their downfall. They turned the ball over four times, twice inside the Royal five-yard line, and that was their undoing.
Knightstown Panther football is in great hands, however. The school says goodbye to seven valuable seniors who will without a doubt be missed. It’s tougher when you have to replace talent and leadership, but something tells me this coaching staff will get that done.
In the meantime, 33 players on that roster will return next season. A good number of those saw significant playing time this year, which means next season the Panthers will field a more veteran team that already knows Prescott’s system.
When the Panthers take to the field for their season opener next year quarterback Joe Haase will already have the experience of 12 varsity games directing this offense. That’s 12 more than he had before this year’s season opener.
Trey McColley will also return. Several coaches this year said McColley was the best back their team faced all season. Speedster Jordan Bearhope will also return, as will a slew of linemen who will already know the blocking schemes.
Zach Lake, Cody Hibbert, Justin Sanders, Kyle Freeman and Seth Parker will be seniors and they all saw significant action - some on both sides of the ball – this year. Add to those players next year’s junior class of Ethan Pearson, Harley Hiner, Brice Biehl, Toby Johns, Chris Matthews, Travis VanOsdol, Matt Bledsoe and Marc Dewitt, and there are 16 letter wins with plenty of varsity experience returning next season.
Add to that talent next year’s sophomore class that numbers 17 very talented youngsters with plenty of speed and the outlook for Panther football is stronger than ever.
The junior varsity had a pretty good season using primarily freshmen and those kids will contribute heavily in 2007. The seventh and eighth grade football programs held their own and also improved in these offensive and defensive schemes.
Of course, the fifth and sixth grade, and the third and fourth grade Panthers, each won their respective Super Bowl titles in the New Castle Youth Football League two weeks ago.
That bodes well for the future of Knightstown High School football.
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