By Steve Williams

Powell High football fans have a lot to look forward to this season. The Panthers’ offense is way ahead of where it was this time a year ago and their defense already is better than last year’s, says head coach Rodney Ellison.

“We look completely different,” said the second-year coach, comparing the team’s offense to where it was this time last year. “The kids know the offense so we’re able to move a little faster. They’re running great routes. The quarterbacks are making good reads.”

Carson Cole, who was given the reins of Ellison’s “spread up-tempo offense” as a freshman at halftime of the season opener against Farragut last year, is now a sophomore quarterback who looks like a junior.

New defensive coordinator Eric Myers already has taken the 3-3 stack defense Powell switched to after the ninth game last season “to the next level,” said Ellison. “Our defense has grown by leaps and bounds. We haven’t even played the first game yet, but our defense is already better than it was last year.”

After the team’s fifth 7-on-7 competition in eight days last Wednesday, Ellison gave the Panthers the rest of the week off.

“We’ve been coming in every day since the dead period ended, lifting weights, having practice, the 7-on-7s and a lot of film study,” said Ellison. “It’s been a grind and started to show a little bit, so we’re going to let them enjoy the rest of the week off, come back and get ready for two-a-days on Monday (today).”

Senior Conner Sepesi returned as starting quarterback last season, while Cole had moved up to the backup position prior to the first game.

“Carson kept improving,” recalled Ellison. “We knew that Conner could help us at receiver. So we made that move because we knew that the future was Carson. That’s going to pay big dividends because we have some really good receivers this year. Carson was able to throw to them a lot last year and he has all of them back for the most part this year and you can see a big difference in our 7-on-7s.”

Three wide receivers return — Hunain Rasheed, Kamari Smith and Brandon Smith. Rasheed was the leading WR last season and Brandon Smith ranked No. 2. Riley Bryant, a sophomore with potential, will be another target for Cole. When the Panthers use a tight end, Bryson Reed will step in.

There’s a three-way battle at running back between seniors Dayton Beason and David Robbins and freshman Bailor Walker.

Left tackle Will Hoyle and right tackle Tanner Kesterson return in the offensive line. Chase Morgan and Caleb White are competing for the starting job at left guard. Center Brandon England and freshman right guard Michael Treadwell are other probable starters up front. Treadwell played in the Tennessee-Kentucky Middle School All-Star game.

On defense, Bryson Reed has moved from outside linebacker to “quick” end this season. Kesterson will be the “strong” end. Young but athletic Alvin Stacy is playing the key nose tackle position.

Jonathan McQueen and Hayden Epperson are outside linebackers, while Wesley Hardin and Robbins are inside LBs. Senior middle linebacker Eric Ludwig will “direct traffic.”

Starters in the secondary will be Kamari Smith and Brandon Smith on the corners and Bryant at free safety.

“We’re trying to put a lot of speed on the field – young speed,” said Myers, who coached previously with Ellison at Clinton. “We’re really young on defense in the back half. There will be some growing pains, but we’re going to try and work through it.”

Cole will be the punter. Coach Ellison may have to check with the soccer team about a kicker.

The Panthers would like nothing more than to pick up where they left off last season. After losing their first nine games, they won their last two.