PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) - The last team in our DQ Grill and Chill Countdown to Kickoff series is the Pikeville Panthers.
The Pikeville Panthers enjoyed their most successful season since 2004 last year, going 11-3 and advancing to the Class A state semifinals, but getting back to that point won't be easy with the loss of several key pieces on offense.
"Our line needs to come together some more," says senior wide receiver Conner Pack. "There's a lot of young guys right now cause a couple guys got hurt. So, once they learn their spot, they'll do just fine."
Aside from a new-look offensive line, the Panthers will also have a new quarterback in 2012 after graduating do-everything playmaker Randy Maynard, which means the offense will be run a little differently early in the season.
"We'll try to script it a little but more. And it's just going to be a learning process for us. We're just going to have to go slow, and go into each game with a number of plays and hopefully add a little each week. And I really think once he gets a little more comfortable, he's going to be fine back there," says head coach Chris McNamee.
Returning to the offense is running back Chase Hall, who will need to take on more of a leadership role in 2012.
Says Hall, a junior, "Well I'm just making sure that everyone is working as hard as we can every day at practice, and just trying to get the best out of everyone on the team."
The defense will also rely on new faces but should still be a team strength.
"Our linebacker corps. Their all really, really fast, and they've all played for a pretty long time. We've got a few returning starters so we'll be pretty good," says junior linebacker Gage Morrison.
"Defensively, I think we need to be a little more physical right now," adds senior Jake Burke. "We're not as physical as we were last year. We have Austin Black there at linebacker, and he's still good. We lost Tolliver (Hefner) and Randy (Maynard) but we have some replacements, and we're just going to have to keep practicing hard, play hard, and play physical."
Despite being young and a little undersized, one thing the defense will have is speed.
"We're just small. We're really small, but we're fast," says junior linebacker Austin Black. "We get to the ball quick. A bunch of the teams we played sometimes ran the ball outside, and I think we can get to it better. But in the middle is where it's going to hurt us a little bit. We just have to come together and react on it better."
The Panthers kick off their 2012 season on the road on Friday, August 17th, when they visit the Harlan Green Dragons.