The practice field is ready. The weight room is ready. The new jerseys have been ordered. Year two of the Billy Kirk regime will provide the players with new amenities, but will the team garner any wins? That’s the big question.
Ask Kirk, and the answer is a resounding "yes."
"Everything is new for us this year," Kirk said. "I feel like we can make Jackson County a special place, and when we do, it’ll set Jackson County on its ear."
In order to do that, Kirk and his new-look Panthers will have to better the zero wins they achieved in 2007.
With a new offense and a strong defense, Kirk is ready to make that happen.
In 2007, the Panthers’ goal on offense was first downs, not touchdowns. This season, the offense and the outlook is different.
Implementing a new run-first style of offense, the Panthers will rely on junior quarterback Marquice Gillespie to set the tone, make plays and give Jackson County’s "best offense" time to rest.
"This offense is a ball control, clock control offense," Kirk said. "We’re going to try and put some points on the board and let our defense do the rest.
"Our defense is our best offense."
Despite losing key members of the defense to graduation, Kirk feels like this year’s unit is already leaps and bounds better than the 2007 version.
Junior captain Charles Smothers leads the Panthers on defense, and although the group is young, Kirk feels like they will be ready to play.
"They are an exciting group to watch, and they are no doubt the strength of our team" he said.
When not taking snaps at quarterback, Gillespie will serve as the punter for the Panthers, a job that he performed well as a sophomore. The speedster won’t be returning any kickoffs though, as Kirk has given that responsibility to Charlie Waycaster, a defensive back with 4.5 speed.
Last year the Panthers struggled to stay competitive in Class AAAA, and although they drop down to Class AAA this year, winning games won’t be any easier. But Kirk has this program moving in the right direction, and with three or four winnable games on the schedule, the Panthers are more than likely going to give Kirk his first win as the president of Panther football.