Unlike our other three Bulloch County schools, the Portal Panthers don’t kick things off until Sept. 11. The Panthers are coming off a 1-9 season with their lone win coming in the season finale.
Portal had a couple of competitive games last season, but were beaten pretty badly by the Savannah private schools. This year the Savannah private schools are leaving the region, but are being replaced by a few formidable foes including Screven County and Metter.
Matt Smith is entering his fifth season as Portal head coach and is optimistic about this year as the Panthers replace some departed seniors with some youthful talent.
“We are kind of thankful in a way to have an extra week to prepare for our season opener,” said Smith. “We’ve been at it a while and I know our guys are anxious to start the season, but with so many new players it will be good to have an extra week.
“It would have been nice to get a scrimmage in, so we knew what we needed to work on,” said Smith. “No one was able to play a scrimmage though, so we are all in the same boat.”
Portal loses 6 starters from a year ago including leading rusher Tyvaccea Heard, who led the team with 855 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. The Panthers do return Wilken Washinton who split time at running back and quarterback last year, but will be counted on primarily at running back this season.
“We are really going to be counting a lot on Wilken Washington this year,” said Smith. “He has shown a lot of leadership, and he is playing a big role on offense and defense.”
“I feel like we are really putting forth a lot of effort out there,” said Washington. “I feel like we have a good mix of senior leaders, and some talented freshmen. I think we are going to be strong in the backfield on offense, and our secondary is strong as well.”
One of the other positions the Panthers have some returning starters is up front on the offensive and defensive lines.
“We have a lot of older guys, and guys with a lot of experience up front,” said Smith. “The skill guys are a little younger, but we are lucky to have a group up front who know what they are doing.”
“The guys we have on the line are used to our system, and have been playing together for a while,” said Craig “Our younger guys have some talent, and are still trying to figure things out, but I have faith in them. As one of the team leaders it’s important to try and take those young guys and help them understand what is expected from them, and to set a good example.”
This year the Panthers won’t have the Savannah private schools to deal with, but adding Metter, Screven County, and ECI means there’s not much difference in the schedule.
“We replace the Savannah schools with Screven, Metter and then ECI is now a full time region opponent, instead of just a region crossover game. I feel like we will be in for a fight every Friday night, and we have to be ready for it.”
The Panthers open the season at home Sept. 11 as they host Montgomery County at 7:30 p.m.