Photo by Eric Kennedy.
Senior wide receiver Andrew Cox (83 in black), who will help anchor a veteran and talented Powell receiver corps, makes a catch in a pre-season scrimmage vs. Lenoir City last week. Cox will also be asked to help out at defensive back for the Panthers this year.

By Bill Mynatt,

Radio Voice of Powell Panther football on AM 620 WRJZ, host of The District, Saturday mornings at 10 on AM 760 WETR

This time last year the Powell Panthers, who were coming off of a 14-1 season and a state class 5A runner up spot, were trying to adjust to a new head football coach in Derek Rang.  Twelve months later, as Yogi Berra used to say “It’s déjà vu all over again,” as 28-year-old Tobi Kilgore becomes the third head coach of the Panthers in as many years.

While Kilgore may be young in years, his resume is solid.  After graduating from Halls High School he chose not to play college football, but rather to attend UT and begin his coaching career while earning his undergraduate degree.  A stint as an assistant at his alma mater, followed by a move to Knoxville Central, where he served as the defensive coordinator of a resurging Bobcat program, has resulted in nine years experience as an high school assistant – more than many coaches have had when they were hired as first time head coaches.  One only has to look at the experience of the two coaches who preceded Kilgore at Powell for proof.  Matt Lowe had three years as an assistant on his resume before assuming the head coaching position of the Panthers, and Rang 5.

Unlike Rang (who went 12-2 in his year at Powell and is now the receivers coach at Carson-Newman University), who kept virtually all of Matt Lowe’s assistants a year ago, Kilgore had some staff adjustment to tend to before the real coaching began at Powell.  He retained five coaches from Rang’s staff, and brought in five coaches from other staffs.  One of the first orders of business for Kilgore was to mesh the old with the new on the coaching staff.

“I tried to hire the best teachers and people who can help mold the young men of the Powell community in to successful members of society one day”, Kilgore explained when I asked him about his staff.  “We have to help the kids be successful not only on the field, but in the classroom and in life, as well.  In the short time we have been together this staff has really bonded because we all share that same vision.  Every coach has a different personality and different ideas, but we all share that same vision and core values for our program.”

What that staff inherits is a program that has gone 37-4 over the last three years and has appeared in a state final game and a state semi-final game the past two seasons.  And with six offensive and three defensive starters returning, the foundation for another solid team is there in 2013.  Kilgore is well aware of the expectations that the recent success, arguably the most successful era in Powell High football history, has brought to the Powell community.

“Powell has great expectations for its football program, and we are going to continue to build on the past success of the school”, Kilgore told me.  “It is important to remember, however, that just because there was success in the past doesn’t guarantee success in the future.  This team, including the coaches, will have to work hard every day to make a mark for this team.  This team isn’t 37-4.  It is 0-0 and nothing is guaranteed.”

As it does with football teams at most levels, but especially at the high school level, success is highly dependent on having a quarterback who can read defenses and execute accordingly to what he sees.  Powell will have a proved senior signal caller to run its spread option offense in Hagen Owenby.  Owenby, a superb athlete, was voted as a first team Associated Press All State Team member as a junior.  He is also an outstanding baseball player, having already received Division 1 scholarship offers in that sport.  The 6’2” and 205 pound right hander is equally adept at throwing and running the football.  Last year he ran for 1,181 yards (5.5 yards per carry) and 8 touchdowns, while throwing for 1,753 yards and 17 touchdowns – completing 61.5% of his passes.  Having a talent like Owenby calling the signals in his first year as a head coach is very much appreciated by Kilgore.

“It makes things easier to have a player like Hagen leading this team,” Kilgore said of Owenby.  “Hagen is an unbelievable competitor and he is mature beyond his years.  He is a coach on the field, and the hardest working kid I have ever been around.  I am blessed to have the opportunity to coach such an amazing competitor, and he is even a better person.”

Kilgore won’t change the offensive scheme of the Panthers that averaged 30 points and nearly 400 yards of offense per game last year.  He will stay with the no huddle spread option wide opened scheme that Powell has employed over the past seven years.  As the saying goes, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.  Expect only a few tweaks and new wrinkles from the Panther offense in 2013.

As much as the spread option is perceived as a passing oriented offense, it really starts with establishing the running game, and much of the Powell success of recent years has come because of talented running backs such as Dy’shawn Mobley, Darian Logan, and Montario Washington.  Those guys all could take it the distance on any play.

While Powell doesn’t appear to have that bigger back like Mobley and Washington were, what they do have is one of the fastest players in the Knoxville area in Tyshawn Gardin.  Gardin is listed at 5’8” and 160, but the name of his game is speed and vision.  A legit 4.4 guy in the forty, Gardin averaged 8.9 yards per carry as a junior, scoring nine rushing touchdowns and totaling 698 yards on the ground in splitting time at the running back spot with the graduated Washington.  He also returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown last year, and will be a major part of the kick return game.

When the Panthers need tough yards inside look for another senior, 5’10” and 190 pound Drew Carter to get the ball.

Kilgore on his running backs:

“Tyshawn can absolutely fly, and will be a big impact player for us.  Since I arrived at Powell Tyshawn has matured a ton and will be a game changer on Friday nights.  Drew Carter is a bruiser and gets the tough yards, as well as playing sideline to sideline at inside linebacker.  Trevor Carter extremely talented, and Cameron Bostic gets better every day.  Coach (Charles) Birden has a good group and he also has a history of developing those backs in to some of the best in town.”

Having a quarterback who can throw the football is a tremendous asset, but to be successful he has to have receivers who can make plays, and Powell has those receivers in place.  That unit could be the deepest and most overall talented group on the team.

Seniors Marcus Weaver, Andrew Cox, Klay Leeper, and Tremarius Hunt would make a tremendous receiving corps just by themselves.  Add to that experienced group a freakishly athletic sophomore in 6’5” and 230 pound Darel Middleton – who has already been offered by and verbally committed to Butch Jones and the University of Tennessee – and you have the makings of what could be a very special group of receivers.

Weaver, a 5’9” and 160 pound speedster, led the team a year ago with 41 catches and four receiving touchdowns, averaging just under 14 yards per catch.  He also is a threat running the football on reverses, and will join Gardin as a key cog in the kick return game.  Weaver also will back up Owenby at the quarterback spot.

“Coaches (Adam) Seymore and (Dustin) Humphrey have done an amazing job of developing this group,” Kilgore said.  “This is a very detailed oriented group and they will cause some defenses problems on Friday nights.  They are an unbelievable unit that can exploit weaknesses and holes in a secondary.”

Of course, before an offense can be successful the offensive line has to do its job.  Powell returns just one starter on the o-line in a 6’ and 215 pound junior Colin Sharp, but veteran offensive line coach Larry Neely has a knack of getting young players ready.

“Coach Neely always seems to find a way to get five guys out there who can create run lanes for our running backs and protect the quarterback”, Kilgore told me.  “This will be our youngest position group, but with the years of experience that Coach Neely brings to the table he will mold these guys in to becoming a very effective unit.  This group improved greatly during fall camp and it is imperative that they continue that improvement in the next couple of weeks as we get in to the season.”

In talking with Neely, he has expressed his feeling that he has good talent to work with, and that this could be a very deep group of offensive linemen before all is said and done.

While the offensive scheme will stay basically the same, the defensive under new Defensive Coordinator Jason Grove will bring a different look.

Gone is the 3-3 stack, a blitz them early, often, and then blitz them some more philosophy of the previous staff, and enter a true 3-4 defense, which relies more on pressure from the front three and containment by the linebackers and secondary – a defense that Kilgore employed during his tenure at Central.

For this defense to be successful, the front three needs to be able to pressure and occupy the opponent’s offensive linemen.  Fortunately for the Panthers, the front line is the most experienced unit of the defense.

Anchored by 6’2” and 310 pound nose tackle Brady Scalf, the defensive line of Coach Rusty Smith returns both experience and bulk.  Scalf registered 56 total tackles a year ago, including 12 for loss and 5 quarterback sacks.  Expected to join Scalf up front in starting roles are another senior in Dalton Long (6’1” and 235) and Cody Reed – a 6’1” and 215 pound junior, who was a starter as sophomore until an injury interrupted his year.

“The d-line is undoubtedly our most talented group on defense,” Kilgore said.  “We have a lot of athletic beef up front. Dalton and Brady are two of our leaders on defense and their energy and work ethic inspires others around them to work harder.  Cody Reed will also be a big impact player for us there.  He has an unreal motor and comes to work every day.”

The linebacker corps will be led by senior Josh Singleton, the team’s leading returning tackles leader from a year ago.  While he might be considered a bit undersized for the position at 5’10” and 175, Singleton brings leadership by example and has earned the reputation as one of the hardest hitters on the team.  He made 69 tackles in 2012, including 11 for lost yardage.  That leadership ability certainly is appreciated by his new head coach.

“Josh is our most experienced linebacker, and one of the big time leaders on this football team,” Kilgore explained.  “He never missed a workout and he is at every team function we have.  Josh is a great character kid whom his team mates will naturally follow.”

Others expected to join Singleton at linebacker are Carter, Tyler Childers, and a newcomer to the team in Tanner Latham.  Also expect Middleton to see time at one of the linebacker spots.

None the less, Kilgore likes the potential in that unit.

“After watching film from the Lenoir City scrimmage we are going to shuffle some more players to the outside linebacker positions.  Before we roll in to the season we expect this to be a solid unit, if we can avoid the injury bug.”

Coming in to fall camp, no other unit on the Panther squad lost more experience to graduation than did the secondary.  Graduated defensive backs included a 4-year starter in Jon Strozyk, who was also a two time All State honoree, a 3-year starter in Washington, and two other 2-year starters.  No other member of the coaching staff had more work to do than new secondary coach Cassen Jackson-Garrison, but that doesn’t mean that the cupboard is bare in that unit.

Returning are seniors Michael Brown (5’7” and 155) and juniors Evan Smartt (5’10” and 170).  Both made starts a year ago filling in for injured players, and they provided depth at both corner and safety.  Outside of those two, however, just who will start for Jackson-Garrison is yet to be determined, but progress has been made according to Kilgore.

“The secondary has been our most improved unit since spring practice ended.  We have been installing some new schemes and the kids are beginning to get a grasp of what we are trying to do on the back end of our defense.  We have also shuffled some players in to the secondary that makes this unit a little stronger.  We will have some offensive guys playing both ways – Marcus Weaver, Andrew Cox, Tremarius Hunt, and Klay Leeper will all work part time in the secondary.  Trevor Carter will help us at the safety position with his athletic ability.  And Brown and Smartt will anchor us and be big players for us.  Coaches Grove and Jackson-Garrison have done a great job in developing this group.”

On special teams, Owenby will handle the punting duties.  He averaged a solid 35 yards per punt last year, dropping 10 of his 38 punts inside the 20.

Returning to handle the place kicking duties is senior Austin Rogers.  Rogers was incredibly accurate a year ago, making good on 48 of his 51 PAT attempts, and hitting on four of five field goal tries.  Kilgore likes what he has seen from Rogers thus far.

“Austin performed very well for us in the Lenoir City scrimmage, hitting two of his three field goal attempts and he is really gaining some confidence.  He put in a lot of work in the off season lifting at 6 a.m. before taking care of some summer school work, and it is really paying off.  We are going to put a real emphasis on special teams play this year.”

In addition to an already solid District 3AAA schedule, Powell opens the season by hosting defending class 4A champion Fulton in a State Farm Thursday Night Rivalry Game on August 22, and then it travels to 2-time defending class 3A state champion Christian Academy of Knoxville.  After those two non-district games it will be eight consecutive 3AAA contests, with a week off scheduled for September 13.

Although the schedule was made by the previous coach and previous athletic director, Kilgore looks at it as a “we get to, not we have to” opportunity for his team.

“We get to play the best competition in the state week in and week out, and it is an amazing opportunity for our football program, our school, and our community.  We look forward to the challenges of playing two defending state champions in the first two weeks, and then hitting our district schedule, which is also very competitive from top to bottom.  We have to continue to work hard and remember that past successes do not guarantee future success.  We have to have an all in attitude every day with all out effort every day, and work each day to dominate in every aspect of our lives.  If we do that, wins will come.”

For the 12th consecutive season I will have the pleasure of serving as the radio play by play announcer for Powell High School football on AM 620 WRJZ.  Air time for the season opener with Fulton on Thursday, August 22 will be 6:30 p.m.  Air time for the other nine regular season games will be 7 p.m.  AM 620 will also carry any playoff games in which the Panthers participate.