Panthers close spring on high note

Lenoir City High School’s Josh Mejia carries the ball Friday during the Orange and Black Game at LCHS.

Fans got a small glimpse of the 2019 Lenoir City High School Panthers football team Friday evening when spring camp capped off with the annual Orange and Black Game.

Players were separated into two teams and played in scrimmage format to simulate a game-like experience.

“First, we just want to end the spring with a little competitive game,” Jeff Cortez, LCHS head football coach, said. “We wanted to have a little fun and allow guys to make some plays. But also, we wanted to get it on film and see how we respond in a game situation because there are things we can learn from the adversity of a game. We’re fairly young in some spots, so that whole process is important as we grow and develop as a team.”

Cortez was pleased with the team’s effort, including the underclassmen.

“One of the things off the top of my head is that some of our young guys are pretty talented,” he said. “You know, there are going to be a bunch of new names that some of our fans or our longtime supporters are going to know because they’ve kind of been waiting their turn, but we had some big plays. We looked sharp at times. Other times ... like I said, we got it on film, so we can learn from it and get better.”

Junior quarterback Mason Stanley suffered several injuries during his first two seasons and never saw the field much, so this is a moment for which he has patiently been waiting.

“I kind of expected to step up this year because of us losing Gabe (Williams),” Stanley said. “I’ve been putting in a lot of work and I knew that it would be tough. Today, I thought I did pretty good, too. I was a little nervous at the beginning, but after a couple of snaps, I got used to it. I just kept throwing first down after first down, so I felt pretty good.”

Stanley has taken his commitment seriously, traveling to Nashville in the offseason to participate in passing camps. He continues to work on his skills outside of practice.

“I did some quarterback training and went to Nashville almost every weekend,” he said. “I worked on my footwork and I have stuff at my house, like throwing into holes and stuff like that. It was pretty good to do that, too.”

The black team offense scored five touchdowns, while the orange team scored two.

Stanley completed a 15-yard touchdown pass to Cody Wilhite, followed by a 10-yard touchdown run by Wilhite to give the black team their first two scores.

Other highlights included a 40-yard pass from Stanley to Adam Stegall and a 75-yard touchdown run by Stanley on a broken play.

“He’s (Stanley) a work in progress and is still developing,” Cortez said. “He’s still learning how to command a huddle, command the team. He doesn’t have many games under his belt. As a freshman and sophomore, he had some injuries, so he’s still learning and developing. We only had three quarterbacks in the spring, but I think that was important for him to get a lot of snaps. Also, he got respect of the players. There’s so many aspects that go into being a quarterback and it’s not always about making plays.”

Another player that stood out was sophomore running back Josh Mejia, who broke off several big gains and a 10-yard touchdown run.

“Actually as a freshman, we pulled him up and he got a lot of special teams reps last year for us,” Cortez said. “We think he’s got a ton of talent. He’s just a sophomore, works hard, he’s a quiet kid and he just comes to work. He does a great job every day. He’s a disruptor on defense. He may have made a little more of an impression carrying the ball on the offensive side, but he’s got that little burst that we need. It was good to see him make some positive plays.”

The Panthers will return to the weight room and practice field June 1, which will be a time of reinforcement.

The team will participate in a passing camp June 14 at the University of Tennessee, as well as camps at Maryville College and LCHS in July.

“What we do is we install it again,” Cortez said. “We install in the spring and we’re going to reinstall back in day one of practice. We’re going to go all over it a second time throughout this summer. We’re going to hit fall camp and we’re going to reinstall it for a third time and just keep getting better at what we do. We’re definitely going to be at UT for 7-on-7, so that will be really cool. That will be our first time to compete in June.”