Knox County (WYMT) -- If ‘third time is a charm,’ this season will be Knox Central’s year.
"Our kids are really working hard. We are excited about what they done in the offseason,” head coach Scott Russell, who was Mr. Football in the state of Kentucky back in 1991, said. “They really pushed themselves in the weight room and even on the track. When it's 80-90 degrees outside in June, our kids were out there on the track running."
The Panthers are coming off back-to-back seasons where they lost to Russell County, including last year’s 35-19 loss. Knox Central has not won a district title since 19775.
"Coming up a little bit short, I think that's really fueled our kids,” Russell said. “They really worked hard in the offseason and that's their ultimate goal -- they want to win the district championship. Our kids are really pushing towards that goal and it's on their minds."
The Panthers will start a 6’ 6” 240-pound freshman at quarterback, and despite losing a 2,000 yard rusher a season ago to graduation, they have every offensive lineman back, including Dee Castle.
"Dee went to Lexington Catholic for a little bit so we thought we lost him and he moved back so whenever I heard he was coming back, he text me in the morning, he's like, 'I gotta come back, I miss you guys,'" senior running back Johnathan Gist said.
Gist will fill the starting spot now that Jeffrey Canady is a freshman playing at Eastern Kentucky University.
"It's the first season that me and Jeffery have been apart and I feel like I have been behind Jeffery a lot,” Gist said. “Like, in the limelight. Not only is it my senior year, but like in middle school, it was my eighth grade year, it was kind of the same -- Jeffery moved on to high school and I felt like i led the middle school team and we had an awesome year then and I feel like it's just going to repeat itself this year."
The Panthers also get one of the state’s leaders in interceptions. Matthew Barger picked off eight passes as a defensive back while hauling in 46 catches as a wide receiver last season.
Said Barger: "This year, with Russell County being the favorite, but they lost a lot. We lost a lot. But it means a lot because I want to get in that district championship here and I want to keep on going and get region and compete for state. But I only got two more years left of it and I think I want to put it out for those seniors."
A third crack at beating Russel County is what they want.
"We have had them marked on our calendars since last year,” Barger said.
Asked about the chances they beat them this year, Hayden Canady, brother of Jeffrey, said,"100 percent. You never go into a battle thinking that you are going to lose."