Portal football head coach Jon Willoughby knows last season was a bit of a disappointment for his team. The Panthers finished the year with a 3-7 record.
Portal hasn’t had a winning season since 2011 when the team finished 6-4. However, Willoughby is looking to change the Panthers fortune around.
The team had a solid week of practice, said Willoughby, and had a chance to scrimmage against each other Thursday.
“Practice has been real good. We’ve had a lot better participation compared to the same time last year and we’ve been really getting after it,” Willoughby said. “We’ve had a very good preseason camp. I’m encouraged.”
The Panthers have about 35 players on the roster this season. Portal will spend the first three games of the season on the road this year, with the regular season opener scheduled for Aug. 28 against Josey.
So far, the focus in practice for the Panthers is all about the fundamentals. The Panthers’ coaching staff, although limited in numbers, have worked with each player on the basics of football.
“We’ve worked more on fundamentals this year than we ever did last year,” Willoughby said. “We’re also working on conditioning and being able to run and get after the ball. Our coaching staff is a lot more seasoned than we were last year. We still don’t have any difference in numbers, but the staff has good football coaches.
“It’s a challenge, but we have to find different ways to run practice and organize practice.”
The Panthers graduated just five seniors last year, but one departed player was the team’s four-year starting quarterback Evan Street. Friday afternoon in an interview before practice, Willoughby alluded to the fact that some freshman may see time in the starting position this year.
Willoughby said his team has open position battles and the best players will play, regardless of age.
Freshman Calton Bishop and DeVante White are just a few of the young players that may start for the Panthers this year. Willoughby said they may see time on the defensive side of the ball.
“They’ve earned their spot and I wouldn’t be worried about playing them. That’s good and bad. It’s bad because, generally, freshman going up against seniors doesn’t work out too well but eventually it will pay off,” Willoughby said. “Those guys earned their spots and I don’t care how old you are, 14 or 18, it doesn’t matter to me. If you can play you will play.”
While the quarterback position is still in the air, the Panthers’ leading rusher Darius Huff should provide some consistency for the team. Huff is returning from an injury, but Willoughby said he has performed well over the summer.
Going into his third season as head coach of the Panthers, Willoughby said he’s excited about the start of the season.
“We’re just trying to end this losing mentality and start the year with a winning attitude,” Willoughby said.