Panthers' season could hinge on what takes place in the trenches
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times, and for Powell High School head football coach Jim Stringer, it was a season unlike any other. The Powell Panthers won their first four games a year ago before injuries, player dismissals and a full-scale mugging at the hands of the swine flu conspired to cause the team to fade to a 4-4 finish and a missed playoff opportunity.
“That last week, I've never seen anything like it,” Stringer said, recalling how sickness kept him from coaching his team during the season's final week and decimated the Panthers to the point where Powell was unable to field a scout team in the buildup to its final game.
That was a year ago. With the start of the 2010 football season slated to begin this Saturday, when the Panthers travel to Miles City, Mont., for their annual scrimmage game (the contest plays as a regular season game for Miles City, but won't appear in the Panthers' season record), Stringer will have a team of about 60 players ready to go.
According to the WyoPreps.com media and coaches' preseason poll, the Panthers kick off the season ranked fifth in Class 3A.
Thanks to the mishaps of last season, Powell returns “six or seven” players with “significant varsity playing time” to each side of the football, according to Stringer. The Panthers have several proven playmakers and a wealth of athleticism in the offensive backfield. Many of the holes that need filled by the program will come along the offensive and defensive lines.
“It's going to take some time for the kids to grow into those positions,” Stringer said of the Panthers' developing 2010 line. “The kids on our line of scrimmage need to think. They need to perform as a unit. I'm excited with the kids we have. I think we've got some good, young talent. We've made a few personnel moves to bolster our line of scrimmage, but it will take time and repetition to get them working together as a unit.”
Getting that unit operating together is a key, because behind the offensive line sits junior Keithen Schwahn, who accounted for nearly 1,500 yards of offense last year, including 1,131 yards through the air. Schwahn's most productive target in ‘09, senior Kyle Sullivan, is also back, looking to build upon a campaign that saw him average better than 19 yards per reception.
“We're not going to be the biggest team out there, but we're used to that,” said Stringer. “That's why our system emphasizes misdirection and combination blocks to give us a chance to use our athletic ability.”
Defensively, the Panthers will make a slight change this season, shying away from the 3-5 scheme in favor of a return to a more-traditional 4-3 alignment. Despite it not being their primary defense in 2009, injuries forced the team to adapt and run some 4-3 as well.
“We don't have the same type of dominating down linemen that we had last season, and you need that in the 3-5,” said Stringer. “The 4-3 matches up better with what we have this season in terms of personnel. We've got an athletic group of linebackers and our secondary has the most experience of any area of the field. I expect we'll have another solid defense.”
After Saturday's trip to Miles City, the Panthers open the 2010 season with non-conference home games against Riverton and Wheatland. Star Valley and Lander will also make trips to Powell for varsity football this season while the Panthers' road slate takes them to Buffalo, Worland, Jackson and Cody.
“If we come together, especially the younger kids on the line, I think we can stack up with anyone in the 3A West,” said Stringer. “We'll have to use our speed to win games. Our schemes should feature our athleticism and quickness. As long as we stay healthy and come together as a team, we'll be competitive.”