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Freeman leading the way in Portal
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    PORTAL — It won’t be an easy road for the Portal Panthers, but they’re certainly up to the challenge.
    The last three football seasons have brought identical 1-9 records for the Panthers, but a coaching change and a new offense hopes to turn the corner in 2010.
    Taking the reins for Portal this season is Cherard Freeman, who has experience coaching on both sides of the ball as a coordinator for both Portal and Claxton. Also lending itself to the Panthers’ rebuilding effort is Freeman’s championship pedigree — he played for a pair of national title winners under Paul Johnson at Georgia Southern.
    Now, Freeman hopes to take a Panther squad that lost five games by two touchdowns or less last season and get them over the hump.
    “Right now, we’re just excited to get back into pads,” said Freeman. “We know we have a lot of hard work to do, but these kids are up to it. This team was in a lot of games last year. We just need to use that as motivation to work a little harder this season.”
    While the coaching regime is entering its first season, Freeman and his staff have been in place since the spring. Summer weight training and conditioning sessions were well attended and Freeman believes that a good foundation between players and coaches has been set heading into fall practice.
    “For us, football season really started in June,” said Freeman. “The coaches and players were together for five days a week all summer. We’ve got a good feel for each other and now we’re ready to get back out on the field.”
    The most pressing concern heading into the new season is the offense.
    Last season, Portal averaged just 15 points per game and topped the 20-point mark just twice. The implementation of Freeman’s triple-option attack is the fourth offense in as many years for the Panthers, but he is confident that the new scheme will finally get Portal’s offense going.
    “It starts with the offensive line, and I think we’ve got a lot of guys returning that will help us out there,” said Freeman. “At quarterback, Hunter Oglesby does a good job of running the ball and Devon Spells looks good at fullback. Corey Walker and Tony Michaels are at slotback and Corey Reese will be a good receiver. Overall, I know we’ve got the talent. We just need to get it moving.”
    Defensively, the Panthers remain strong.
    A pair of last year’s starters were signed to college scholarships — Theo Rich signed with North Carolina State while Jarrell Robinson is at Georgia State — but Portal is confident that new faces will step up to fill the void.
    “We have some guys that will definitely need to prove themselves,” said Freeman. “I still think that defense will be our strong point. Defense is how we’re going to win games. Our mentality is that if the opponent can’t score, they can’t win.”
    Portal will get its first opportunity to see how it shapes up next Thursday as the Panthers travel to Tattnall County for a scrimmage against the Battle Creek Warriors — playoff participants in the AA classification last season.
    Portal begins its season August 27 when the Panthers will host cross-county rival Southeast Bulloch.

    Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.