Panthers hope speed will be an asset in 2012Speed kills, as the adage goes, and Ellsworth will have plenty this season. Ellsworth plays host to its conference opener tonight against Amery. Kick-off is at 7 p.m.
By: Chris Harrell - Red Wing Republican-Eagle, Pierce County Herald
Speed kills, as the adage goes, and Ellsworth will have plenty this season. Ellsworth plays host to its conference opener tonight against Amery. Kick-off is at 7 p.m.
The Panthers boast 27 players who run a 40-yard dash in less than five seconds — an impressive number, head coach Clair Austin said.
“You just don’t hear that in high school football very often,” Austin said. “It’s probably the most team speed I’ve seen in a long time being a coach.”
The Panthers also return multiple talent position players who will be counted on to provide leadership and performance on the field.
Senior quarterback Jacob Murphy and senior wide receiver/cornerback Alex Campbell were important to Ellsworth’s 5-5 season, the team’s first with Austin, and will be asked to contribute at another level this year.
“(Murphy) has put on about 25 pounds (of muscle) since last year and he’s doubled his strength,” Austin said. “The second year usually slows down for QBs and that’s what we’re looking for. … He’s put a lot of time and effort into the football season and it shows already in camp.”
Campbell had a lot of success as a high jumper for the Ellsworth track and field team in the spring and that success should help prepare him to be a force on the field for the Panthers, he said.
“It helps with my speed and just being able to jump and get that ball when you’re a corner like I am,” Campbell said. “You got to be pretty fast if you’re going to be a wide receiver or a running back and, if you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to be shifty and got to be able to move your hips.”
His role as a shutdown corner last year was crucial to gaining Ellsworth its first playoff berth since 2007. Campbell had seven interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.
“You can pretty much lock down any top receiver,” Austin said. “Last year, (Campbell) shut down every one he was against. He’s just a phenomenal athlete on the defensive side of the ball.”
That impact will help ease the losses of Parker Hines and Jacob Betthauser, two of the Panthers’ top tacklers last year. Hines had 87 tackles, including a team-high seven tackles for loss, and was a state champion wrestler.
“I feel like Parker will be a hard one to replace, but Logan Blodgett has really stepped up over the winter,” Murphy said.
Betthauser provided 99 total tackles, 57 solo, to lead the team and also tallied a team-high 502 rushing yards.
Austin said it will be less about replacing those two with two individuals as it will be about several players filling the gaps and using the prodigious team speed to wear down teams.
“I don’t know that you even replace a Parker or a Jacob, but you just have to move forward and go with the guys who are going to get you to the next level,” Austin said. “It’s one of the fastest defenses I’ve ever had but we just got to sit home for counters and reverses. As long as we’re a disciplined defense, we should be very good on the defensive side.”
But the Panthers will need their lineman to provide the open field essential for speed to take control.
“If our offensive line can control the line of scrimmage and be aggressive, we have a chance to do things this year,” Austin said. “Our ground game is huge. When you watch most of your teams playing late in the year, they’re running the football and that’s what I pride myself on as a coach. We have to be able to run the ball if we’re going to be able to do anything late in the season.”
Campbell, Dennis Schutz and Logan Kemmerer should be able to provide a successful running game as all three got carries last season. Campbell had a team-leading 14 total touchdowns, eight on the ground, Schutz averaged 5.79 yards per carry and Kemmerer had 171 yards and a touchdown last year. Murphy also will be asked to run more often, Austin said.
“We’ll be very competitive,” he said. “I’m very excited for the season, the kids are excited, and the community is excited. Good things are going to happen if everything falls into place and we can stay healthy.”
The Panthers will attempt to prove that in the game of football, slow and steady doesn’t win the race.
“Speed kills,” Campbell said. “If you’re going to get to the outside, you’re gone and nobody is going to catch you. That’s what we’re going to be able to do.”