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Panthers becoming close-knit squad, set to get going

Panthers becoming close-knit squad, set to get going
Panthers becoming close-knit squad, set to get going
Senior linebackers, from left, Alec Saulman, Wade Thomas and Jacob Johnson return for Corydon Central's football team. Photos by Brian Smith

Entering his second year, Corydon Central football coach Andrew Smith has seen his group of players become more of a unit.
Through off-season workouts, leading to fall camp, Smith has noticed the positive camaraderie among players and staff.
‘I think we are a better unit and closer as a team,’ Smith said. ‘I think that helps us a lot. We are working together and helping each other out.’
There is one number ‘ 28 ‘ on the roster Corydon Central opponents will seek to account for each time the Panthers take the field. Returning senior Austin Kopp took the Mid-Southern Conference and southcentral Indiana by storm with his stats in 2015. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound running back rolled up impressive numbers, including 31 touchdowns for the Panthers.
‘He’s pretty good,’ Smith said of the 2015 Associated Press All-state honorable mention performer. ‘He’s emerging as a leader this year. It’s an area we talked about in the offseason one on one. It’s making sure he steps up into that role. Everybody looks to him anyways, but it’s important he leads the right way. He’s done a real good job of that.’
A year ago, Kopp carried the ball 211 times for 2,083 yards (9.9 yards per carry). He had eight games of 100-plus yards.
‘I think his goal and our goals for him are to repeat last season’s stats, but it will be hard to repeat,’ Smith said. ‘The target for defenses is going to be on him and rightfully so.’
Smith said the main quality Kopp brings to the running-back position is making defenders miss tackles.
‘In the open field, he can make you miss and he’s tough to bring down,’ the coach said. ‘He’s kind of the complete package.’
Implementing a spread-style offense in 2015, Smith doesn’t plan on just handing the ball to Kopp repeatedly. Quarterback Alec Saulman shifts to signal caller after a year at wide receiver. The senior played some QB in the past, competing 5 of 9 passes for 97 yards.
‘He’s got a good arm and is athletic,’ Smith said of Saulman. ‘He can make plays when things break down. He gives us another play-maker. He’s 6-1 and 215; a solid size.’
The size is important with Saulman likely playing on both sides of the ball. Smith has Saulman slated to play outside linebacker.
‘I think his size and athleticism will help him hold up over the season, especially playing defense for us, too,’ Smith said. ‘It’s not ideal to play your quarterback at linebacker, but you have to put your best players out there.’
There is depth emerging at the quarterback and running-back positions. Some of the emerging backs include junior Braydon Weathers and sophomore Colin Smith.
‘They have done a nice job at running back so far. We have some guys that can go back there, and we have a freshman that’s pretty good, too,’ Smith said.
Keeping a steady rotation in practices had allowed coaches to build a two-deep rotation if needed. Sophomore Noah Windell has gotten reps at quarterback as well.
‘I think he’s our future quarterback, so we are getting him as many reps as we can,’ Smith said of Windell. ‘He competed in a lot of varsity 7-on-7 this summer with Saulman at some baseball tournaments. He’s gained a lot of experience and may play some in the secondary.’
Within the spread offense, Weston Goodman and Ben Johnson, both juniors, played wide receiver last season. Goodman had six catches and two touchdowns as a sophomore. Johnson caught four balls.
‘Weston Goodman and Ben Johnson are two kids that will have a big role on both sides of the ball,’ Smith said. ‘They showed they could handle playing varsity toward the end of last year and handled it well from there on out. They’ve worked hard this offseason.’
Both are going to play corner on the defensive side.
While running back is an obvious key returnee, Corydon Central also brings back much of its linebacker core. Jacob Johnson is a senior who paced the team in tackles with 118, including 45 solo.
‘Linebacker and running back are the two areas we have the most experience back at,’ Smith said. ‘Jacob Johnson is back and does a real good job at linebacker. Saulman has played linebacker for us, too.’
Another returner is senior Wade Alcorn, while Weathers figures in as well.
Johnson, to go with the high number of tackles, had seven for losses and picked off two interceptions.
An area Smith and the staff had to make over was on both sides of the line. With Cameron Ayres (Lindsey Wilson College) and Ben Woodward (Franklin College) off to play at the next level, competition has been there to fill roles.
A solid starting point is returners in seniors Jastyn Bradford and Wade Alcorn. Both stand over 6-3, providing good size for tackles.
‘We definitely have to retool some guys on both sides of the line,’ Smith said. ‘We return two offensive tackles with good size: Bradford and Alcorn. Having them back helps solidify the interior of the line. They have been coming along well.’
One emerging lineman has been junior Noah Hartman.
‘Noah Hartman is a big player for us and is playing well, too,’ Smith said. ‘He has stood out thus far, especially on both side of the line.’
On the defensive side, many players will play both offense and defense.
Smith said the numbers are low overall, sitting at just more than 40 players, but he likes the depth created.
‘I am really pleased with the depth we have developed,’ he said. ‘We aren’t super deep, but we’ve come up with some good rotations. We may have guys going both ways, but I feel there will be guys to roll in and do a good job. We’ve had some injuries in the first few weeks that have hurt our depth.’
At special teams, Saulman averaged 33.5 yards per punt last year. He also figures to handle point after touchdown tries. Kopp and Goodman will be key figures in the return game.
Last season, Corydon Central closed with a 6-5 record, capping the program’s seventh consecutive winning campaign. The season openers then were one-possession losses to Southridge and North Harrison, teams that combined to go 17-5.
‘Last year went overall well,’ Smith said. ‘We would have liked to have done better, but, if you play some games over, maybe you win a few more. We had a pretty decent year; nothing to be upset about. You always want more. We are trying to lay down a foundation. They are used to being successful. They are wanting to continue that.’
In Smith’s first season, the Panthers won a road play-off game at Brown County (49-7) before their season ended at the hands of Southridge (44-12). They’ll get another crack at Southridge in the season opener in Huntingburg at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
‘We are ready to get going,’ Smith said. ‘We have talent, and I think we can be competitive. Hopefully, we respond well when we take hits. I like our camaraderie better, but how is our mentality?’
Like many, Smith figures Brownstown Central and Charlestown will be the favorites in the Mid-Southern Conference, but he’s aware no Friday night is a cake walk.
‘There is not a lot of easy weeks in the Mid-Southern Conference or on our schedule. It’s going to be a challenge every week,’ Smith said.
Building a solid foundation is what the Panthers’ coach is after. In the offseason, he said it was a more consistent group showing up for workouts than in year one.
‘It’s a much closer group. They showed that this summer,’ Smith said. ‘I think we are coming together. You hope that translates to success on the field.’