Kent Briggs can just about name all his seniors in one breath.
Cherokee may be the youngest football team in the Smoky Mountain Conference. But the second-year coach is not discounting his team’s potential at all.
Especially with what Kennan Panther, Logan Teesateskie, Jason McMillan and Darius Blanton bring to the table for the Braves.
“We don’t have a lot of seniors, but we have four guys who really embody what you want when you talk about senior leadership,” Briggs said.
“We really feel good about them. Last year, we went through a lot of growing pains. And we’re still not one of those teams that can’t sit here and say we’re going to win X-amount of games. We’re going to be young. The majority of our players are going to be sophomores. But I think we’re going to be more competitive.”
Panther (190) and Teesateskie (162) are linebackers who combined for over 250 tackles during last year’s 3-9 season which was a good improvement on a 0-11 campaign in 2013. Panther and Teesateskie rank first and second, respectively, among top returning tacklers in Western North Carolina.
Cherokee snapped a 13-game losing streak by beating Choctaw Central (Miss), 26-21, in the annual Battle of Nations game last September. The rivalry is so intense that the Braves have been selling fan-bus tickets for the rematch this year in Mississippi since July 15.
Blanton (wide receiver), McMillan (defensive back/wide receiver), Panther (fullback/linebacker) and Teesateskie (fullback/linebacker) are part of a dozen returning starters (six offense, six defense) for Cherokee.
Sophomore quarterback Tye Mintz (417 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions) started his first varsity games late in the year. Mintz will be part of the NUC Sports Ultimate 100 top prospect camp later this month in College Station, Texas. Briggs said that Mintz and Swain County transfer Luke Woodard, who is a junior, are both in the running to man the Braves’ spread offense.
McMillan made 29 receptions for 415 yards and six touchdowns as a junior.
Junior Jay Swimmer and senior Malakai Ramirez, as well as sophomores Will Davis and Byron Locust are veteran linemen.
Middle-school athletes are eligible to play junior-varsity sports in the SMC, so Briggs is high on the potential of incoming freshman tailback Isaiah Evans. Sophomore Shane Swimmer is another newcomer at defensive back and wide receiver who should make an immediate impact.
The Braves will have between 30 and 40 varsity players, Briggs said. They will run a 3-4 defense.
Cherokee’s first game is Aug. 21 at home against Trinity Christian Academy (Tenn.).
Note: A more complete preview of Cherokee and other WNC football teams will be available in the Aug. 16 print edition of the Citizen-Times.