Iron Ford
  • FOOTBALL: Staying healthy key to Panthers' season

    Doug Daniels
    Monday, August 22, 2016

    Three years into the head coaching tenure of Todd Thomas at Pinckneyville Community High School, Thomas has seen three teams come up just one win or a handful of opponent victories away from the IHSA playoffs.
    The Panthers’ season really came down to a field goal by Carterville’s Jeff Giffey in the closing moments of the Lions’ week eight win at Pinckneyville. Needing a win to keep their hopes of clinching a playoff spot in week nine alive, PCHS rallied from down 21-7 at the half to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t get a defensive stop as Carterville set up the game-winning kick.
    Aside from being one of ten 5-4 teams left out of the postseason, three opponent wins shy, Thomas was pleased with the results he got from a team many didn’t give a chance to contend. He set a goal before last season for his team to ‘stay focused and play hard for nine weeks,’ a goal that remains in place for 2016.
    “On paper, it looked like maybe we could win a couple ball games,” Thomas said. “We definitely overachieved, and our kids played with a lot of heart, a lot of grit. They were very coachable, and that’s what this is all about, it’s the reason why I’m in it.”
    “We’re going to keep that same theme. Obviously it’s a little bit of a different situation than it was last year. We’ve got several returning starters, but we’re going to take it day by day and we’re going to work hard. We’ve had a pretty good offseason and a pretty good summer. We have pretty high expectations of the kids, but again, it’s a day in, day out process. Things can change quickly. We’re still not very deep, we have to stay healthy.”
    Pinckneyville got just one conference win on the season, a 14-7 home win over Anna-Jonesboro in week six, but was a within one score at the end of games with playoff-bound teams Nashville and Carterville.
    “This is a tough league, anybody can beat anybody on a given week,” said Thomas. “Obviously I think this year you have to give the lead to Du Quoin with where they’re at. The parity of the league last year was unbelievable, up and down. Our out of conference schedule, you have to be ready to go week in and week out.”
    Just like last season, the Panthers have 41 players across four class levels out for football - 13 freshmen, 10 sophomores, 10 juniors and 8 seniors. They’ll bring back three All-Southern Illinois River-to-River Conference Mississippi Division Team selections - fullback and linebacker Alex Howard, two-way lineman Nick Cannon and kicker, punter, wide receiver and linebacker Dylan Carns.
    Howard was part of a three-headed monster at running back along with class of 2016 seniors Caulden Lazenby and Dalton Peradotta, often taking over in the second half of ball games against worn-down defenses.
    “(Howard) is obviously kind of ‘the guy’ in our backfield this year that people are going to have to account for,” said Thomas. “He’s a load, he’s an athletic kid, he’s got good size. When he gets the ball he can run you over or he can run around you. He’s a definite weapon for us, but our philosophy is, especially with our lack of depth, our kids play both ways and our offensive linemen get their rest on defense, we have our skill kids rotate in on offense and try to rest on offense.”
    Thomas said we won’t see Howard in the backfield on every play, and that Chase Fulkerson will be sharing some of the work at fullback. Other running backs include Ryan Brueggemann, Colton Kling, Tyler Rice and Draeden Kreger.
    “It’ll be by committee,” said Thomas. “We usually don’t have one guy that’s going to get all the carries, it’s pretty balanced. That’s because we still want to be very effective defensively, and we can’t do it if those kids are tired.”
    Cannon was an All-SIRR selection on both sides of the ball last year, giving him two career selections at defensive lineman.
    “Obviously Nick’s accomplishments speak for themselves, Thomas said. “He’s worked hard also. Nick’s gotten stronger, he’s gotten bigger. He’s a big, athletic kid. He’s one of the better defensive lineman in our conference if not the whole area. He’s kind of a handful. We’ll move him from guard to center this year. He does a good job snapping the ball, I’m proud of where he’s at.”
    Cannon is joined by three other returning linemen - guards Jeremy Opp and Sean Allgire, and tackle John Gulley.
    Carns has quietly put together one of the best careers for a Pinckneyville kicker in recent memory, and has gotten bigger and stronger since his All-SIRR season last fall.
    “The thing that stands out to me about Dylan, we’ve talked about his kicking, but Dylan is a heck of a football player,” Thomas said. “Dylan had a great winter in the weight room, he got tremendously stronger. He was at 185 (pounds) last year, we weighed him the other day and he’s 220 pounds, 6’2. He really worked on his leg strength, he really wants to kick at the next level. That’s a goal of his, he’s really focused on that.”
    “At the same time, a lot of those kids are just kickers and Dylan’s not just a kicker. He works extremely hard at both offense and defense. He’ll play at outside linebacker for us this year, he played at corner last year. He’s done real well this summer and this preseason.”
    Graduated senior Clayton Houghland will be replaced at quarterback by Brian Kling, an athletic signal caller that will keep defenses honest with his legs.
    “Obviously he’s an option-style quarterback but he’s really worked hard at his mechanics,” Thomas said, “his arm strength has gotten a lot better. He’s gotten a lot more confident in his throwing ability, so our play-action stuff is looking pretty good this summer. He’s got a burst.”
    Carns will again be one of the team’s top receiving threats, but behind him Thomas says “there’s a lot of competition for our ‘X’ receiver spot.”
    “We’re probably not going to throw the ball as much as we did the last two years with Clayton (Houghland) being kind of a pocket passer type of kid, Brian is more of an option-style kid. We’ll pick and choose our places, hopefully we can get some play-action going.”
    The Panthers are at Red Bud in week one with a 7:00 p.m. kickoff on August 26. They’ll host West Frankfort a week later in the PCHS home opener.


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