NAUGATUCK – The Tug Valley Panthers began practice on Monday for the start of the 2016 football season.
On October 30, 2015 the Panthers lined up against the Man Hillbillies in a game that turned out to be a two-point conversion loss in double overtime. The very next week they faced off against the highly ranked Hillbillies once more in the opening round of the Class-A tournament and won 38-28. The Panthers were knocked out the following week by a tough Moorefield squad. That made back-to-back seasons for the Panthers making a good run in the Class A state playoffs.
The team that considers themselves the underdog on the Mingo County football scene. They hope to shoot for higher goals in the upcoming 2016 season.
The Panthers lost some key players during this off season, some graduated and some transferred, but the players that remain are ready to capitalize on last year’s success. Tug Valley has healthy numbers and plenty of players ready to step in and fill the gaps.
The Panthers will spend most of the practice period finding what they believe will be a winning recipe on offense and defense. A stout freshman class will help the Panthers by adding depth to an already deep junior class. Veteran players like Johnathan Blankenship, Chandler Pack, Carson May, Josh Deboard, Andrew Dingess, and Brady Spaulding have freshman like David Marcum and Parker Brewer to help bring in some needed speed.
Levi Davis is a new face that has waited for his chance to play as a Panther after transferring from Logan last season. This early into the season Davis and Blankenship seem to be the top two contenders for the open quarterback slot left by the departure of Tyler Conley.
The fullback and linebacker position has been left open by the graduation of Phillip Lucas and Tyler Estepp. The team will certainly miss the presence of Calvin Blankenship on the field. Most of the skill positions have players waiting for their chance to shine and the Panthers look to be a well-rounded team.
Despite losing the size of players offensive linemen like John Hall and Dustin Mills, the 2016 Panthers look as big as ever down in the trenches. May returns for another season as the teams center while Deboard and Dingess will return to be by his side.
The defensive picture will fall into place as the Panthers get a better idea of who wants the positions the most. The competition, on the defensive side of the ball, should become better and better as the regular seasons grows near.
The freshman class moving up puts the Panthers at a big advantage. Feeder programs like Lenore and Kermit Middle Schools will help once they adjust themselves to high school play. Upcoming scrimmages will introduce the players to the Panther system of Coach Tony Clusky before they start on the high school level.
The Panthers have also added Seth Ooten as an assistant coach and strength coach. The Panthers report they have had great participation in the off season in the weight room. Coach Ooten has been working the Panthers through their own special routine to help fit the game plan for the season.
Noah Lucas and Pack seem to be sharing the running work load in the opening period of practice. Both players are pure athletes and have added muscle mass since last season.
The Panthers are filled with confidence and have ignored any circumstances that would damage that. They have had back to back playoff and seasons and making the post season is their plan again this season.
(William plaster is the sports reporter for the Williamson Daily News, he can be reached at 304-235-4242 ext. 2274 or at [email protected] on on twitter @sidplaster.)