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Panthers seek healthier 2022

Panthers seek healthier 2022
Panthers seek healthier 2022
Corydon Central senior running back Anthony Martin, center, attempts a sweeping rush after receiving the ball on a handoff from senior quarterback Tyler Fessel during a practice Friday. Both Martin and Fessel are looking to bounce back after being injured for much of 2021. Photo by Brandon Miniard
By Brandon Miniard, Sports Writer, [email protected]

During the first four years under the watchful eye of Aaron Humphrey, the Corydon Central football team has been slowly improving year after year.

In Humphrey’s first year at the helm, the Panthers managed only one win in 2017. They bumped that up to a three-win 2018 before taking a slight step back in 2019 with a pair of victories. 2020 showed signs of the program making significant progress, finishing with a 5-4 record for their first winning season since 2015.

This led many to believe 2021 would be the next step in the Panthers’ rebuild. Instead, a slew of injuries crippled the Panthers throughout the season en route to the program’s first winless season since 2000. With a short-handed roster, the offense was stymied all season as it averaged just 7.1 points per game, getting shut out in three consecutive contests along with only two double-digit games in the final three games, including a 60-10 sectional quarter-final defeat against Evansville Bosse.

The defense hardly fared any better; its fewest points allowed coming in a 28-7 loss to rival North Harrison in last year’s Big Cat Classic. On the year, the Panthers surrendered an average of 45.1 points per game.

“At one point, we were down 18 starters. It’s tough for a school our size, and it doesn’t matter what program, it’s tough to overcome that,” Humphrey said. “Despite that, we continued to compete and we got better from week to week, and that’s all I can ask from my guys. Hopefully now that it’s a new full year we can move forward.”

Many of last season’s injured starters will look to bounce back in 2022, including senior Tyler Fessel, who will return to the role of QB1 after missing all of 2021 with off-season knee surgery. As a sophomore in 2020, Fessel exploded for 1,192 passing yards with eight touchdowns, along with another 590 yards and 11 scores on the ground.

Other key returners include senior running back Anthony Martin, who amassed 185 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries in the Panthers’ first three games of 2021 before being bitten by the injury bug. Jalen Fowler, an All-MSC honorable mention in 2020, is expected to lead the Panthers’ receiving corps after taking 14 catches for a combined 131 yards.

Senior Hunter Schmitt figures to be the Panthers’ most versatile weapon on both sides of the ball, helping lead the defensive line while also being one of their top returning rushers (188 yards on 55 carries).

“We’ve got some offensive weapons coming back for us this year. Tyler started as a sophomore and was an all-conference player, while Martin is coming off injury as well,” Humphrey said. “Defensively, Hunter Schmitt is like the quarterback of our defense because he’s a three-year starter.”

With the graduation of a dozen seniors from last season’s squad, including a number of multi-year starters such as All-Mid-Southern Conference selection Dakota Jones, a number of roster spots have opened up for role players and newcomers alike.

Looking to fill holes both in the wide receiver corps and the offensive line is athletic 6-foot-5 senior Kameron Walter, who will make his gridiron debut after spending his first three years of high school at Lanesville. The Panthers also expect to see greater contributions from the likes of senior wide receiver/strong safety Tyler Stark and sophomore wide receiver Waylon Doblado, who saw limited use a year ago, along with junior Wesley Taylor and sophomore Bryce Gerlach.

Both the offensive and defensive lines will look somewhat different this year as six of the aforementioned graduated seniors were linemen. Looking to fill the gaps include a trio of sophomore tackles — Gabe Redmond, Alex Shaffer and Elijah Stonecipher — along with freshmen Jonas Sutton, Coleton Deatrick and Justice Taborn.

“We lost a lot of two- and three-year starters (in our senior class), so they will be hard to replace,” Humphrey said. “But I think that our young guys will be able to step in and fill their shoes.”

As the heat bore down on the Panthers during their first couple weeks of practice, Humphrey has been pleased with the work he has seen, which has looked closer to the team he fielded during the 2020 campaign. One of the Panthers’ biggest goals this year is to limit injuries as much as possible.

“We tell our kids that we want to be better today than we were yesterday … This group’s done a great job so far, working hard and controlling their attitudes. I’m really excited about this football team,” he said. “We just got to get better in all phases of the game. We’ve got to be better on the offensive and defensive lines, we’ve got to be better on defense against special teams, we gotta tackle better. If we can do that, we’ll be a much-improved football team.”

Aside from different venues, the Panthers’ schedule in 2022 is nearly the exact same as it was a year ago, the only difference being that Mid-Southern Conference-rival Eastern (Pekin) returns to the slate after last year’s matchup was canceled due to COVID-19 issues on the Musketeers’ end. The Panthers will open the season by hosting perennial MSC-powerhouse Brownstown Central on Friday, Aug. 19.

After their confrontation with the Braves, the Panthers will have only three other home contests during the regular season, starting with a showdown with rival North Harrison in the annual Big Cat Classic on Sept. 2. The other two homestands are against Salem (Sept. 23) and Silver Creek (Oct. 14), the regular-season finale.