Experience, depth abound for Panthers
Ross Schulz, Contributing Writer
It was a perfect summer Saturday night in Corydon as fans were able to get their first glimpse of the 2020 version of the Corydon Central Panthers football squad.
The Panthers scrimmaged the Providence Pioneers six days before the season opener Friday against perennial powerhouse Brownstown Central.
The flag waved as the national anthem played, pads crunched, coaches yelled, officials tossed flags, players chirped and fans cheered. For those who didn’t know any better, it appeared to be just another year.
But, of course, 2020 has been anything but another year.
The scrimmage was played Saturday instead of Friday to surpass the deadline to allow fans to attend. All spectators had to have an admission voucher for entry, which will be the same process for Friday night’s home opener (up to 500 vouchers are available). Due to COVID-19 pandemic regulations, spectators had to wear face coverings to enter and throughout where social distancing was not possible.
All events scheduled for 250 or more attendees, including sporting events, have to be approved by the Harrison County Health Dept.
Multiple collegiate football conferences have canceled their seasons for the fall, and adjustments and cancellations have become frequent for high school sports across the country, including Indiana.
For Corydon Central and coach Aaron Humphrey, it was great to be back on the field competing.
“It was good for me, good for the kids, good just to have some normalcy,” he said. “I was excited to get out here. You just kept waiting for that phone call or text that you were going to get shut down. These young men have worked hard and they deserve this opportunity, and I hope they get every opportunity this year and it doesn’t get taken away from them.”
For now, the season rolls on with what appears to be the fourth-year coach’s best team to date.
“It’s taken four years, we’ve got 11 seniors and that’s just about double what I’ve had every year,” Humphrey said. “And on Friday nights, you win with seniors. And, these seniors have been in the system, they know what the expectations are on and off the field, the work ethic, and I’m excited for them and their senior year.”
The Panthers finished 2-8 a season ago, one win less than the previous year.
The offense will be led by sophomore quarterback Tyler Fessel and a slew of receivers, including newcomer Koleton Kaiser, a 6-3 senior, who hauled in two touchdown passes Saturday night. Other receivers who caught balls in varsity action against the Pioneers include No. 2 quarterback Nolan Adams, a junior; sophomore Jalen Fowler; seniors Drew Smith and Jacob Torbet; sophomore Anthony Martin; and senior Jaeden Singleton, who hauled in a touchdown pass from Adams.
Other than the two touchdown connections, Kaiser and Fessel hooked up for a 40-yard bomb. The quarterbacks, Fessel and Adams, will be joined in the backfield by running backs seniors Brad Pitts and Chandler Money, junior Noah Denbo and Martin, all of whom had positive runs Saturday night, including a 27-yard TD run by Denbo.
In varsity action, the Panthers scored four touchdowns to the Pioneers’ two in the scrimmage setting, which allowed a given number of offensive plays for each team.
“The big thing is we’ve got depth at a lot of positions, and so we’ve got competition there,” Humphrey said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that we feel are capable of starting and playing at a high level, so we’re just going to see how those guys shake out.”
On the defensive side, the Panthers also had a strong night. On the first offensive play for Providence, safety Nolan Adams, a junior, picked off a pass, and later Fowler did the same for the Panthers. In all, the defense forced four turnovers while giving up two scores.
“We’re going to be anchored up front with some seniors -— (Chase) Straub, (Blake) Lawson, (Jacob) Stanley — and then our linebackers, two sophomores in (Hunter) Schmitt and (Anthony) Martin, (Michael) Basham, a junior, seniors Drew Smith and (Houston) VonSchmittou, Denbo will play there also.”
Singleton, Fowler and Adams will be stalwarts in the secondary.
“And we’ve got several others in the secondary that are capable of stepping right in and playing,” Humphrey said.
Defensive coordinator Jason Timberlake said he was happy with the group’s pursuit to the football Saturday night.
“All in all, I think we played better as a unit tonight than I think we have in a long time,” he said.
Humphrey said he liked his team’s energy and enthusiasm throughout the scrimmage.
He told his team there were a lot of positives from the night but said they have to understand the importance of one point that could make a difference in a game.
The Panthers botched their only attempt at an extra-point field goal, which they used as their last play of the 12-play series.
“We have to fix those,” he said.
Senior Nathan Lisher will handle kicking and punting duties.
Corydon Central will have a new face calling plays on the offensive side, welcoming Dusty Rutledge. Rutledge spent last season as the senior player personnel analyst for Ole Miss. Before that, he spent time under head coach Rich Rod-
riguez at the University of Arizona and West Virginia University.
He was also head coach at Parkway High School in Ohio, his alma mater, for a season between college coaching stints.
Corydon Central athletic director John Atkins had nothing but praise for not only the football coaches, but all the school’s coaches in dealing with the protocols and procedures related to COVID-19.
“Our student-athletes and coaches, in all sports, have went above and beyond in regards to following state, local and school guidelines,” Atkins said. “Since we returned to activity on July 6, they have all had a ‘whatever it takes’ mindset so that fall seasons could have a chance. The fact that we have not only made it to the fall, but have also made it through the first week of competitions, is a testament to their hard work and self-discipline.”