Sure, Jackson County said goodbye to 21 seniors off last year’s squad, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a host of Panther seniors waiting to lead this fall.
Jackson County, which kicked off its season unofficially Saturday with picture day, has 16 seniors on this year’s roster as it works toward its season opener Aug. 27 against Johnson.
“We’ve definitely needed to pick up the vocal leadership,” Panther linebacker-defensive back Nick Oney said Saturday. “There’s definitely a big gap we need to fill, but our seniors this year are stepping up and filling that void.”
Jackson County, which moves down to Class AA after going 4-6 last year, is in the middle of week two of training camp.
Though all practices weren’t conducted in full pads during week one, that didn’t lessen the intensity as preseason camp started.
“It’s still cranked up,” Oney said. “We’re preparing as hard as we can for the first game.”
Oney is part of a defense that ranked fifth out of eight in teams last year in Region 8-AAA, surrendering 22 points a game.
Expectations are high for this year’s defensive unit as Oney said he hopes Jackson County can hold opponents to around 14 points a game.
“It’s looking good,” Oney said of the defense. “We have a great scheme with the cover two and then with the drop to cover three and cover four. It’s looking really good this year.”
Adding to the interest locally this season is the schedule. In dropping down to Class AA, the Panthers are now in a region with Jefferson and East Jackson.
That sets up instant rivalries with those two schools, though Jackson County hasn’t played Jefferson in 25 years and has never faced East Jackson, which was formed in 2007 when Jackson County Comprehensive High School split.
Jackson County meets East Jackson Sept. 17 and Jefferson Oct. 22.
“It will be a lot closer competition — school size,” Oney said of the new region and classification. “And then playing Jefferson, which is half a mile down the road, we’re going to have a huge crowd for that. And then East Jackson, that’s going to be tremendous, because we played them in basketball and it was a sell-out. So I can only imagine (what it will be for) football.”
Not surprisingly, Oney knows several of the players for the rival schools.
“Oh I do, because I’ve played them since middle school, so I see them all the time and all that good stuff,” he said.
For Oney and his fellow seniors, they can’t wait for the season to start and for their chance to lead.
“Oh, yeah, us seniors, we’re pumped up and have been waiting four years for this moment,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity, and we’re all psyched up for it.”
Garrett Holt intercepts a pass Friday during a Jackson County practice.