Prep Football Preview: Panthers will need to reload

Prep Football Preview: Panthers will need to reload

Video

Prep Football Preview: Panthers will need to reload

By

One.

It’s the number of games Pennfield lost last year.

It’s also the number of starters the Panthers have coming back from last year’s team.

Pennfield had a season to remember in 2011, going undefeated in the regular season and not losing a game until the third round of the playoffs. But the bulk of the players that had success on that team are gone and Pennfield will have the challenge of seeking that kind of success with all new faces.

“We’ve never had this situation before,” said Pennfield head coach Nick Koenigsknecht, regarding having only one returning starter. “But we did have those extra weeks of practice in the playoffs last year and these players got a lot of work in practice as part of an excellent football team. They saw those work habits and when you talk about tradition, these players have seen what it takes to have success so hopefully that will come through.”

A winning tradition is very real at Pennfield, as the Panther program has made the playoffs every season since 1998 and has five double-digit win teams since 2001.

The new players are expecting that same kind of success when they take the field in 2012.

“We always keep the tradition of having a good football season here at Pennfield and expect to make the playoffs, that doesn’t change,” said senior Hunter Hoogakker. “We have a lot of good athletes and a lot of hard workers on the team and I think hard work will help us have a good season.”

Even though Pennfield is low on experience, Koenigsknecht knows that his opponents in the Kalamazoo Valley Association won’t take it easy on him — admitting some league foes may see the defending league champs as vulnerable this season.

“We know teams are going to be coming after us hard,” Koenigsknecht said. “We have put the hurt to some teams in the last couple of years. They are usually up to play us in the first place and now they will probably come at us even harder.”

The lone returning starter for Pennfield is offensive lineman Brandon Rau. He will move from tackle to center on a completely rebuilt offensive line.

Joining him up there will be a core group of players looking to establish themselves as starters. Seniors Jared Jacobs and Jose Arias will line up at guard, along with Justin Parker and Ethan Everett. Looking to get time at tackle, includes Brandon Babcock, Zack Geno and Doug Herzing, along with 6-foot-8 sophomore Ryan Lowe.

On the ends, always key to the blocking scheme for Pennfield, include Sam Duckham, Chris Lukowski and Jeremiah Cowham.

Pennfield could have a rotation at quarterback this season with senior Hoogakker and junior Jake Grimes taking the snaps in the traditional Panther wing-T offense.

Some seniors that saw some playing time in the backfield last season, include Jeremy Purcell, Davontae Miller and Dominic Arredondo with incoming juniors Nick Burnett, J.J. Clements and Derek Lipps also looking for carries.

“Overall, we have pretty good size so that will have to be a strength for us. We don’t have the speed we have had in the past, so we could be more of a power team,” said Koenigsknecht, who’s offenses put up big numbers the past few seasons running and throwing the ball. “We know we have to establish the wing-T and the run more this year. We are so inexperienced and we have so much to learn, we are going more slowly. So it’s not going to be possible early to open up the offense like we have the last few years.”

The defense will have the same challenges, according to the coach.

“We have some size up front, which is good, because we have to compensate for a little less speed than we had last year,” Koenigsknecht said.

The strength of the defense will be the linebackers, who bring back the most playing experience as they were in the rotation some on that undefeated team in 2011.

Duckham, Lipps and Parker all saw playing time last year at linebacker.

Up front, Jacobs will line up at nose guard with a rotation of defensive tackles that could include Rau, Arias, Babcock and Lowe. Look for Parker, Clements and Everett to see playing time at defensive end.

In the defensive backfield, the safety spots could be manned by Lukowski and Arredondo at strong safety and Hoogakker and Grimes at free safety. Miller, Purcell and newcomer Travis Hartung will play cornerback.

As Pennfield scored over 400 points last year, the Panthers weren’t always worried about who was kicking. But this season, Pennfield feels good about having a solid kicker returning in Brayden Bennett.

“Last year we had a lot of games that were over at halftime and it didn’t matter as much. But this year, the kicking game will be real important and it’s good to have some experience back there,” Koenigsknecht said.

Expect the KVA to be loaded again this season and Pennfield hopes to be in the mix, but the Panthers know they have their hand’s full.

“Seems like every year we have a team from the KVA at Ford Field and Constantine went last year with Olivet there the year before, so expect those teams to be good again. Schoolcraft will be good and Parchment went to the playoffs last year and they are improving,” Koenigsknecht said.

More USA TODAY High School Sports