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Focus on lines, back to fortify run game

Focus on lines, back to fortify run game
Focus on lines, back to fortify run game
Corydon Central goes over special teams during a recent practice. Photo by Brian Smith (click for larger version)

Corydon Central’s football team came out blazing to start the 2012 season, winning its first six games. The back-end of the season, however, ended with a 2-3 mark, and the Panthers bowing out in the second round of the Class 3A sectional.
Overall, the 8-3 record marked the fourth consecutive winning record for the Panthers.
Lost to graduation were among the best skill players the program has seen in quarterback Chase Burton and wide receiver Tyler Ross. Burton set the school record for passing yards in a season and for a career. His target, All-State performer Ross, set the single-season reception and receiving yards record. Also gone is All-State lineman Justin Yates.
While the skill set of last year’s team led to a successful passing attack, the 2013 version of the Panthers are likely headed back to the smash-mouth football approach.
‘We’ve got to get back to running the football and being a physical team,’ Corydon Central coach Darin Ward said. ‘We’re projected to start a sophomore at quarterback. Chase Burton played as a sophomore because we had a run game. We want to get back to being a physical team on offense. We want to control possession and the clock. Likewise on the defensive side.’
An emphasis on building depth in the trenches has paid off in the offseason. Ward said the numbers will allow linemen to play on one side of the ball.
‘At practice, all some of them do is go play o-line during practice to get extra individual time all week,’ Ward said. ‘They are always playing guard or tackle and, likewise, our defensive line guys are doing the same format. They learn the offense and defense more every day.’
Senior Hayden Thomas returns on the offensive line, a player Ward said is working hard. Also back is junior David Brann, who earned a starting spot last season as a sophomore. An ACL injury cut his season short in week one.
‘Brann is back and is a smart, intelligent kid that plays with good leverage,’ Ward said.
Cameron Ayers spot played as a freshman last season and returns, while junior David Kimmel is back at a tackle position. Senior twin brothers Logan and Morgan Jones are battling for linemen spots with Logan on the offensive side and Morgan on defense.
Returning to a physical running game could fire up the offensive linemen.
‘It’s a pride thing for linemen,’ Ward said. ‘They want to grind out drives. We’re not any different than any other two-back team; we want to get in the second half and put together 10- to 12-play drives, eat eight minutes of the clock and keep the opponents’ offense on the sideline.’
Behind center enters sophomore Lannis Buck, a 5-10 quarterback.
‘He’s an athletic kid,’ Ward said. ‘It’s our job as coaches to put him in positions to be successful.’
The veteran coach said they’ve scaled back the offense to help the team have more success on first and second downs.
Experience surrounds Buck to provide leadership. Senior Brayden Lander was second on the team in receiving yards (585) a year ago and had 41 receptions. Lander has received early praise from Indiana Football Digest as a Class 3A All-State defensive back.
‘Brayden is a physical wide-out and is back,’ Ward said. ‘He’ll get a few snaps at quarterback if we need him to.’
Competing for wide-out jobs include Josh Allen and T.J. Mathis. Ward said Cody Catlett will slide into tight end and sets an example by consistently showing up on time and working hard in the offseason.
In the backfield, senior Alex McAfee looks for a bounce back. After starting the first seven games a year ago, an illness ended the back’s season.
‘McAfee gives us quickness in the backfield,’ Ward said. ‘He gets better every day and runs really hard.’
Ward said one of the keys to the backfield is finding others to share the load.
‘We want to figure out how to get 35 to 50 rushes a game and not pile it on one guy,’ he added.
Shane Brown saw time at running back last year and could figure into the mix. Alex Newton is a move in from Floyd Central, adding a thicker running back option along with depth.
On the defensive side, Corydon Central returns starters at linebacker who look to take another step forward.
Senior Logan Behagg led the team with 78 solo tackles. He’ll be joined by Jason Wisman, Mitchel Holton and McAfee.
‘We’d like to think that’d be a strength of our defense to go along with Brayden in the secondary,’ Ward said. ‘(The linebackers) are a little stronger, gaining some strength and weight. There is nothing better than game experience, and they have a year of playing varsity football under their belts.’
Coming off five interceptions last year, including one for a touchdown, Lander is poised for a big senior campaign.
Joining Lander in the secondary will be Shane Brown, Oscar Serrano, Chris Tucker and Josh Allen. Ward said sorting those out is about ‘seeing who wants to compete the most.’
Upfront on the defensive line, Ward believes they are bigger than in years past. Alex Benton, a 6-foot, 300-pound senior, lines up at defensive tackle. Junior Steven Sallee recorded two sacks and five tackles for loss last year at the defensive end position. Also in the mix are Morgan Jones, Nathan Schmitt and Travis Phelps.
On special teams, Cory Thomas returns as a second-year place kicker. A standout on the soccer pitch, Thomas proved last season that his leg is a formidable weapon. He made good on 38 of 39 extra-point attempts along with drilling a 47-yard field goal.
‘Kickoff is a big thing,’ Ward said. ‘He’s a good field position weapon to have. He can get it to the goal line at times. He gives us the opportunity when we cross the 25 or so to have a chance at putting points on the board.’
Doing the punting falls to Newton.
As a team, the Panthers have 16 seniors and ‘those guys are doing a good job right now of leading and contributing,’ Ward said.
The offseason was a productive one for Corydon Central, and Ward looks forward to review film from their scrimmage against themselves and Crawford County. Last year, the Panthers entered the season without playing a scrimmage.
A key addition was also made on the coaching staff. The program welcomed Hall of Fame coach Mike Spencer to the sidelines as an assistant. He was 119-29 in 12 years at Perry Central before stepping down after the 2011 season. He has more than 200 career wins as a head coach.
‘He’s taken over our offensive line,’ Ward said of Spencer. ‘Those guys have a coach they can really lean on and helps behind the scenes administratively. We’re always bouncing ideas off one another, and I’ve always given assistant coaches the freedom to voice their opinions and take ownership of things. He’s a successful coach.’
The Panthers will open the season on the road Friday when they head to Leopold to take on Perry Central. Kickoff is slated for 8 p.m. Corydon Central has won the three most recent meetings, including last year with a score of 45-36.