Panthers 'working on a winning culture'

Lenoir City High School sophomore Trey Wilhite leaps July 14 following an interception against Knox Central High School in a 7-on-7 at LCHS.

Lenoir City High School head football coach Jeff Cortez has emphasized the importance of competing at a high level all summer, and the team got an opportunity to show competitive spirit Friday in live action.

The Panthers hosted the Austin-East Magnet High School Roadrunners in the first scrimmage of the preseason.

“I thought for an opening scrimmage there were a lot of positives, and I’m really excited to watch our guys compete,” Cortez said. “We competed really well and, offensively, I thought our efficiency was way above our expectation and they executed really well. Defensively, especially in third down, fourth down, efficiency was really excellent. I’m really pleased with the start of fall camp and our scrimmage schedule. One of the neat things, too, was our second defense, we got three freshmen out there right away to give those young kids experience. A lot of kids competed and played well.”

The Panthers’ defense was able to shut down the Roadrunners’ potent offense early on.

“Defensively, we looked really good,” Cole Richards, LCHS senior linebacker, said. “Everyone flew around and even though we were missing a few guys we came out and shut down Austin-East’s offense. Offensively, I’d say we started off slow but as soon as we got rolling, Austin-East’s defense could not really hang with us.”

Cortez was impressed with the play of the quarterbacks, especially incumbent sophomore starter Brett Cortez.

“We used two quarterbacks, and both of them played very well and managed the offenses like we wanted,” Jeff said. “We moved the ball with either quarterback. Again, I thought our running backs and receivers played really well. It didn’t matter who was touching the ball because we had kids making plays. It was just a really good day on the field. Obviously, we’ve got to watch the film and improve in some areas for sure but in a standpoint of execution and playmaking, it looked really good.”

Sophomore Trey Wilhite has split time at quarterback, running back, receiver and safety over the summer.

But Wilhite said his main focus is building better team chemistry before the season opener Aug. 20 at home against the Stone Memorial High School Panthers.

“I felt like we have grown a lot as a team this year and our bonding is better,” Wilhite said. “I feel like we’ve already performed better this year than we did any last year. Fall camp, it’s just 7-on-7 and you’re not really hitting anyone. Against Austin-East, instead of hitting your own teammates, you’re going out and hitting someone else and getting you ready for the season.”

The Panthers are continuing to build depth at nearly every position, especially along the offensive and defensive lines. Jeff said the lines have reached third- and fourth-string levels.

“It was kind of fun because we were in that scrimmage and we had our defensive line out there, and then a couple of those guys turned around and played on the offensive line,” Jeff said. “In the middle of a drive and just like any other skill position, I just rotated my left tackle right in the middle of a drive, rotated my right guard in the middle of a drive just like any other position. We didn’t skip a beat and if you asked me really, honestly where our strength lies, it would be in our offensive and defensive lines and the depth that we have there and combinations that we can put on both sides of the line of scrimmage. They played really well, and I was really pleased with our offensive line play.”

Lenoir City will host another scrimmage at 6 p.m. Friday against the Sweetwater High School Wildcats.

The staff hopes to see players implement and execute more concepts from the playbook and compete physically up front.

“I expect us to look even more dangerous against Sweetwater after another good week of practice,” Richards said.

“I expect us to win and to come out with a stronger bond,” Wilhite added. “This year we’re just really working on a winning culture, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”