Can you believe it’s finally here. We made it. Football season as finally arrived. The talk is over, the pre-season is done, the scrimmages and jamborees that mean absolutely nothing has come and gone. It’s go time. For the duration of the season we’ll be posting weekly preview and review articles following the Panthers on their journey through the 2018 season. Let’s get started.
When AHS Athletic Director Tad Dubose showed me the schedule back in April, I laughed out loud. That was followed by a “Are you kidding me?”. This season is no cake walk for the three time defending 2A State Champs. This, in my opinion, is the toughest schedule I have ever seen assembled. It all starts Friday night with a “trip across the river” to a small Georgia town called Lincolnton. Lincoln County High School is the type of program that millions of schools across the country strives to be. A perennial power that brings a toughness and a will to win to the field week in and week out, without fail. The Legend of Larry Campbell will live on forever. Coach Campbell graced the LC sidelines from 1972 to 2013. He won 11 state championships. He won 33 region championships and amassed a ridiculous career record of 477-81-3. He had multiple undefeated seasons and put multiple players in college and the NFL. Lincoln County under Campbell was the cream of the crop. Campbell retired after the 2013 season and long time assistant Kevin Banks took over. Being the next guy up, after a legend retires, is a job that few people would want. Banks collected 30-15-1 record in four seasons. The Banks led Red Devils never made it out of the 2nd round of the playoffs and that just doesn’t cut it in Lincolnton. So after having one coach for 42 years, the Red Devils find themselves with their 2nd coach in five years. Michael Pollock was named the LC head coach in March and he’s been handed the keys to a program that is steeped in winning history and a tradition of championships. Last season the Red Devils finished 7-5 and lost in the 2nd round of the playoffs. It’s hard to know what exactly to expect from this years Red Devils. I do know that no matter who the coach is, a game versus Lincoln County is usually a 48 minute war. The pads will be popping Friday night at Larry Campbell Stadium-Buddy Bufford Field.
The Panthers have experienced success like few have ever seen. Especially over the last decade. Since 2010 the Panthers have played in 6 of 8 state championship games. They won five of those. This years senior class has never lost a playoff game. That’s just short of impossible. The Panthers have also won three state championships in a row,
with three different quarterbacks. If they want to win four in a row, they’ll have to do it with a fourth new signal caller. JD Moore (5’10” 180) a junior, is the big man on campus now, and the coaches are pleased with his progress.
“JD is a very capable quarterback. He’s improving every day. He takes control of the offense and has a good grasp of what we want to do. His passing is improving every day and he’s a hard worker. We’re blessed to have such a great young man on our team” said Head Coach Jamie Nickles.
Moore isn’t all alone in the Panthers backfield. Returning this season is Senior Courtney Jackson, a four year varsity player. Jackson (6’1″ 205) was the leading rusher last season when he tore his ACL versus Hartsville in week six. Jackson looks to have fully recovered and brings blazing speed and big time division one college size and tenacity to the vast stable of running backs. Ja’Bryan ‘Dooley’ Sanders will join Jackson in the backfield. Sanders was utilized as a wide receiver last season. He routinely brought the fans to their feet with uncommon speed and separation ability. All he needs is a small crease, and he won’t be caught. Joining Jackson and Sanders is Dominick “The Bus” Washington. Maybe the most physical runner of the three, “The Bus” ran for over 700 yards and 6 TDs last season. Robin Crawford, and Malik Leach will get carries as well as Cruz Temple. The running backs are only as good as their offensive line. Led by seniors Jake Hill (6’3″ 260) Tre’ Jones, and multi-year starter, juniors Connor Nickles and DeMicheal Johnson. The Panthers O-Line is big, strong, physical and they play with a mean streak. Throw in the strapping Tillman Allen at Tight
End and a field stretcher, Quad Woods at wide receiver, and you’ve got, on paper, a very explosive and physical offense.
Offense wins games and defense wins championships. If that old cliché holds true, we might be playing on Thanksgiving again. The coaching staff will tell you that the defensive line may be the best position group on the entire team. Scary, right? Nate Temple grabbed all the headlines in the offseason. The 6’5″ 230lb defensive end was heavily recruited by tons of colleges and he made his decision to play a little closer to home by choosing Mid Tennessee as his college of choice. Nate will be joined by Carson Smith who had a breakout year a season ago collecting 68 tackles. Smith will be joined by Ar’Darius Burton, Arthur Wideman and Jihad Washington. That’s about 1,000 pounds of block eating nastiness. They will allow sophomore Luke Evans, who will get the nod at Linebacker, to roam the field freely. Evans plays with a recklessness that’s fun to watch. Cruz Temple and Tyreke Campbell are ball seeking missiles as well. The defensive back field will also be a strength this season. David Cobb returns after a 57 tackle, 3 interception junior season. Jhalyan Shuler is a physical specimen that can, and will play all over the field. Gabe Calhoun will bring experience and more speed to an already speedy defensive backfield. Throw in a sure footed kicker in Dylan Beauford and you’ve got a really solid team from top to bottom.
So, what to expect Friday night? Expect to see a war. A physical, bloody nose kind of game. When you beat an anvil with a hammer, something has to give, eventually. Can the Panthers get off of the bus with the attitude that they have something to prove? Can they bring a physical nastiness with them to Larry Campbell Stadium? They better, if not, the Red Devils are a very capable team who are looking to make a statement. The target is always on the back of the Panthers, they get everybody’s best shot. How will the 2018 Panthers respond? Only time will tell.
Come back to Atownpanthers.com for a full review of Friday’s game. Hope to see you all there. Kickoff is at 7:30.
God Bless and Go Panthers!