With Union County having lost 16 seniors and “85-90 percent” of its total offense, coach Brian Allison considers 2010 a rebuilding year for the Panthers.
“We’ve lost some major players,” Allison said. “It’s a situation where we’ll have to try and bounce back from that. We’ve got good kids working hard and playing hard, so I think we can get them to play at the level of competition we want to see this year.”
Union County will play in a revamped Region 8-AA in subregion B, hoping to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
The Panthers will have some big shoes to fill with the graduation of quarterback Kolt Owenby, who completed 175 of his 306 passes for 2,593 yards and 26 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions last season.
Allison still hasn’t named a starting quarterback to replace Owenby, but said the race is down to senior Jesse Wright and sophomore T Bentley.
“We could use a combination of those two,” Allison said. “Jesse has the most experienced because he played some as a sohomore and junior, so we want to give him opportunities to make plays with the ball in his hands. T is smart, and hopefully he’ll make the right decisions with the football.”
Allison considers the receiving corps as a strength with seniors Tyler Thomas and Josh Schultz leading the way, though he admits the position is lacking depth — especially after losing last year’s top receiver, Blake Gowder, who caught 72 passes for 1,237 yards and 13 touchdowns.
In the run game, Wright will get a significant amount of carries at quarterback in the Panthers’ spread offense. He’ll also be in the backfield when Bentley is behind center, and Bentley could also see time at running back when Wright is quarterback.
The Panthers return six starters on defense, including linebackers Ian Petkevich and Tyler Thomas at the linebacker position in the Panthers’ 5-2 sheme. The two will look to provide the same production as last year’s leading tackler, Michael Sossei.
“I’m expecting big things out of them,” Allison said.
Allison he’ll switch up the alignments and formations within the 52, but they won’t blitz that often.
The Panthers are without Michael Akin, their punter and placekicker last season.
Allison will give both duties to sophomore Eric Hougrend, who is coming into the season with no varsity experience.
In Allison’s first year back with the Panthers in 2008, he took a team that went 2-8 in 2007 and coached them up to a 5-5 record. Last year, the Panthers improved their win total by a game, so, with steady progress, it’s not inconceivable for Union County to expect to compete for a No. 1 seed in the subregion and a chance to play for a region title in 8A-AA.