CHEROKEE – Cherokee senior Kennan Panther is a hitter that might remind someone of players from another era of football.
He will play for a team next year that has continued using its own winning formula.
Panther signed his letter of intent Wednesday with Carson-Newman (Tenn.). The Cherokee linebacker also played for the Braves basketball team and will join a college program that finished last season 9-3. Panther also considered Mars Hill.
“Really, I like the atmosphere over there,” Panther said. “It’s a great fit and what I need. I feel that’s where I need to be and can have the most success.”
The Eagles have won five national titles and made 15 trips to the NCAA playoffs. They’re led by coach Ken Sparks, who finished his 36th season with a career record of 334-92-2.
Carson-Newman is a NCAA Division II school that plays in the South Atlantic Conference that also includes Brevard and Mars Hill.
Panther was an All-Smoky Mountain Conference linebacker for the Braves the past two years. He made 158 tackles last fall, along with two fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown) and one interception.
He is expected to play linebacker for Carson-Newman.
For Cherokee coach Kent Briggs, one of Panther’s main strengths is his hitting.
“He really is a great hitter,” Briggs said about his two-year captain. “He’s kind of a old style-hitter. Whatever side of the ball he plays on, he’ll do a great job.”
What has contributed to Panther’s success in high school has been the length of time he’s played.
“I played football since I was real little,” he said. “The higher level of football you can play, makes you want to work harder to get there.”
Panther said he admired the late Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor since he went full-speed on each play.
“He was 100 percent on every play,” he said. “That’s what I mold my game around, going full-speed, no matter what.”
Panther’s looking forward to paying his dues at Carson-Newman and earning his playing time. However, he was grateful for the opportunity to play for the Braves in the fall.
“I take a lot of pride to play for my people, my tribe,” he said.