The 2021 middle school football season is officially underway, and the North Panthers football team, which combines students from North Middle and Lenoir City Intermediate/Middle schools, is looking to make a run in the postseason.
The Panthers kicked off the season Aug. 5 in a 42-6 loss to the Norris Middle School Senators and fell 50-6 Aug. 12 to Spring City Middle School.
“This year, we lost a lot of really good eighth-graders from last year so we’ve got some youth and some inexperience,” Richie Wilhite, North Panthers head football coach, said. “You take the good and the bad, but they’re green and learning and they’re eager and they’ve got great effort and showing great attitude. We’re just trying to learn what we’ve got experience from and trying to gain that game experience and get better each day.”
The Panthers are young this season, fielding just 15 eighth-graders out of 41 players.
“We’re really young and we played a lot of eighth-graders last year, so there’s a lot of guys trying to step up early,” Wilhite said. “We’ve got a lot of seventh-graders that are playing, especially, so we’re trying to get that game experience in and get ourselves ready to play.”
The offense is led by a trio of eighth-graders in quarterback Luke Chadwick, center Bubba Willis and wide receiver Deshaun Reynolds.
“So far, we’ve been practicing after school a lot, every chance we get,” Reynolds said. “We’ve been staying fit and staying in shape, running offense and defense every chance we can and just getting ready. We’re looking to make it to the playoffs this year because last year we didn’t get a chance to COVID, so this year we’re trying to make into that.”
“If we try hard enough, we can win this district,” Chadwick added.
Despite a lack of experience across the field, Wilhite believes the offense can be highly successful this season.
“Luke Chadwick is playing quarterback and took some snaps as a JV guy last year, so we’re counting on him to take a majority of the snaps,” Wilhite said. “We’ve got Elliott Lindsey playing running back, we’ve got big Deshaun Reynolds playing receiver, which is a nice addition for us. We’ve got a couple of other guys sprinkled here and there.
“As far as the offensive line with Bubba Willis and some of the others guys, we’re trying to get them all on the same page,” he added. “We’re counting on those guys.”
A majority of the same offensive starters will make an impact on defense as well.
“Defensively, we’ve got Maguire Hurst playing linebacker and, again, Luke Chadwick is playing in the secondary,” Wilhite said. “We’ve got Colton Gardner trying to get in there playing outside linebacker and then Deshaun Reynolds as well. A lot of guys are on the same side of the ball that we’re kind of counting on and putting a lot of stock in and needing those guys to help us out.”
The Panthers’ next game will be 6:30 p.m. Thursday at home against Robertsville Middle School.
“We just want to get better week to week with each snap and each game,” Wilhite said. “We’re going to gain experience, and that’s going to be vital for us to grow as football players and as a football team. We want to take that experience to learn and grow and just try to get better daily.”