2021 Football Season Preview
Football season is right around the corner and Head Coach Tony Joe White and his staff could not be more excited for their season to start. After the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the 2020 season to just four games the student-athletes and coaches are chomping at the bit to play a full 10-game schedule.
With some key players returning on defense and a new-look offense the Panthers are ready to hit the ground running and make this 2021 season special.
One of the most valuable assets to the team this season will be the senior class. The seniors will have to step up in a big way this season. The coaches will ask a lot of them but they are more than prepared to take on the objectives asked of them.
“One of the biggest things we have been able to do here, at least in the time I have been here, is put ownership on the senior class to be leaders,” said Head Coach Tony Joe White. “Last year we didn’t do a fall camp, we did an abbreviated spring season. All the freshmen coming in have not been through a fall camp before, even the entire sophomore class has not gone through a fall camp. It’s going to be a big year for our seniors, they have a much larger group of guys that they are going to have to get their claws sunk in and develop ownership for the program.”
The coaching staff is extremely excited about the new class coming in. This recruiting class is littered with guys that are decorated athletes coming out of high school. A lot of them have been selected to all-conference, all-district, and all-state teams.
“We are excited about this class,” said Coach White. “A lot of the Freshmen coming in are All-State, All-Conference, or All-District type guys. We have helped ourselves upfront with the offensive line. We also helped ourselves in the running game. I am excited about John Lewis playing tailback for us. Thomas Ladner transferring in should help us in the defensive backfield and Sam Hubbard at tight end is a big get for us.”
One thing is certain the BSC offensive line is full of experience and it all starts with the center. Some of the line saw a lot of first-time reps last year in games and this puts them a step ahead at the beginning of this season.
“Our O-line and really everything we do starts with our center, Chris Moore,” he explained. “He (Chris Moore) is a three-year starter coming back, a great leader, knows the offense very well, and should anchor the whole team upfront. Our left guard is a four-year starter, Derrick Maddox. Maddox has been a great consistent player for us and gives us a lot of experience upfront. Our left tackle, Brandon Armstrong was an all-conference player last year for us. Lastly, we have an open battle for the right guard spot and I am anxious to see how that plays out in camp and throughout the season.”
Quarterbacks & Running Backs
When the Panthers take the field this season under center and the backfield will look a little different. With two starters graduated the quarterback and running backs will have big shoes to fill in replacing a four-year starter at quarterback in Trevor Oakes and arguably the best running back and player in Division III football in Robert Shufford.
“I anticipate Trey Patterson will be our guy this year at QB, based on what he has done in the past and in the spring,” said Coach White. “Trey is a completely different style of player than Trevor was, he is more mobile, and more of a risk-taker like a Brett Favre gunslinger type of player, now that can be good, but also bad. I am excited about coaching that dynamic, his ability to run the football creates an element for defensive coordinators that we are going against and will give them a lot of headaches.”
“The running back position will look a lot different this year, it might be running back by committee,” he said. “We have some guys we are excited about that we think will be able to carry the load, but it may not be that one guy that gets all the snaps. It may be three or four different guys that get touches on important downs. That is a position where there this is good competition.”
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
Birmingham-Southern will come into the 2021 season with some elite pass catchers. They return first-team all-conference wideout Branden Rew and bring in others that will complete him very well.
“The biggest thing we got going at wide receiver for us is Branden Rew who was a first-team all-conference selection last year,” said Coach Tony Joe. “Branden is a big, tall, strong, good-looking kid. He can go up and catch the ball, get behind guys quickly, and be strong enough that he can use his body to catch difficult balls in traffic. He is going to require double coverage and when you have a guy that requires being doubled that really opens up your ability to run the football and that’s what we want to do. Gentry Neese was the Newcomer of the Year his freshman year and has just been a very consistent player throughout his career. He is a tremendous leader on our team and when he is out there the guys really look up to him. He has a great presence with his teammates, and I expect he will have a very solid year for us.”
The defensive line position group should be one of the strongest on the team. This position group will be very deep and very hard to block come game time.
“I think our defensive line is our strongest position on the team, as far as depth goes,” said Coach White. “Garrett Smith is an all-conference selection coming back. Clay Youngblood and Cameron DeArman are both all-conference caliber guys. Trey Gory is just a massive human that is hard to block, Zion Thomas, played a lot last year, when we were learning in camp no one could block him. We have so much depth on the defensive line that I think that it will be the anchor of our defense this year. This group should be fun to watch.”
The linebacking core will see new faces this year. A couple of all-conference selections from a year ago have graduated and will need some players to step up. A lot of players got meaningful reps last year which should help them in camp and into the season this year.
“The inside linebacking core were both first-team all-conference last year and they both graduated,” explained Coach White. “Filling in for those guys and figuring out who will play there, I can tell you there will be some competition. Court Coley played a lot last year and was a solid backup for us he’ll be slotted in probably one of the starting positions. Conner West should play well for us. A freshman last year and a guy who helped a lot on special teams and will step in a lot more in one of those inside spots is Gage Motes. Gage has a chance to be one of the best defensive players in the league before it’s all said and done. We definitely have some good players in that spot.”
The defensive secondary is full of elite athletes that will make the passing game tough for opponents. Coach Tony Joe White knows they have one of the best secondaries not just in the conference, but in the entire nation.
“Gibbs Sherrell is our outside linebacker/strong safety type guy, we call it the star position,” explained Coach White. “Gibbs is a three-year starter, a great leader, and a phenomenal player for us this year. We also very well may have the best cornerback duo in the nation. DJ Albright and Wes Guilford. Albright was first-team all-conference last year and Wes has been an all-conference player the last couple of years. Jimmy Anderson is a ball-hawking, hard-hitting safety. Carson Walter is an extremely intelligent safety who has a great nose for the ball and is sudden to the ball, he will be an all-conference selection for us this year. I’m very excited about our personnel.”
With a full schedule this season the Panther fans should be excited. BSC will renew their rivalry with Huntingdon after a two-year absence and travel to an unfamiliar foe in Arkansas Baptist. The schedule set up is tough, but the Panthers are ready to take it head-on.
“We open up at home against LaGrange who we did not play last year and I don’t know a whole lot about,” said Head Coach Tony Joe. “The last time we played them it was kind of an upset, we had a great year but they beat us at their place so we definitely have to be ready for that game. We then play for the Wesley Cup against Huntingdon and that’s a big deal for us we will have that one circled. We added a new team this year in Arkansas Baptist with Austin College leaving the league. After that game, we have a bye week and then get into conference play. I would assume in conference it will probably be the usual suspects. Berry and Trinity (Texas) are always tough teams to beat. Centre will have our game circled since we have gotten the best of them the last two years. We will have to be really focused, the schedule isn’t what I would prefer but who cares, put the ball down and we will play.”
The goals that Coach White sets for his program are unlike any other. It’s not about winning a certain number of games or any statistical data, it is about relentlessly pursuing excellence in everything the team does.
“The way we operate is executing the job the best we can,” said Head Coach White. “That is our mentality, we grab a lunch pale, go to work every day and do our job. The way we define excellence is perfection, but nothing is perfect. We know we will make mistakes, we know there will be setbacks but we are relentless in the pursuit of excellence. When things are going bad you have to stop the bleeding. The way of doing that is putting your foot in the ground and getting it done, and then do it again on the next play and the next play. What happens is you start having success and now you sustain that success the same way. Pursue excellence and execute every task we have in front of us to the best of our ability and as close to perfection as we can.”
One thing is for certain the Panthers may not play perfect football but they are going to pursue that goal of perfect football every day. Every minor detail will be executed to the best ability it can be. It is a long, grueling, road ahead but the Panthers are ready to embrace every second of it.