When it comes to being successful, experience is usually a key ingredient.
Elizabethtown hopes that’s the case this season.
Returning many key players from a successful 2018 campaign, the Panthers are relying on the vast amount of experience from their veterans to lead the way throughout 2019 and hopefully to great heights.
“We just want to start fast,” junior offensive lineman Ryan Pyles said. “We’ve got a lot of experience back this year, so we just want to pick up at a fast level and not have a delay. Everything’s been faster in practice and we’re more advanced.”
Fresh off an 8-5 season that included a trip to the quarterfinals of the Class 3-A state playoffs, Elizabethtown brings back plenty of playmakers that stood out a year ago.
Junior quarterback Clay Games, who passed for 1,600 yards and 18 touchdowns with just five interceptions, is back to pilot the Panthers’ offense while standout running back in senior Joe Becherer, who rushed for 1,332 yards and 14 scores, is set to lead the ground attack.
In addition to that explosive duo, guys like seniors Zion Gee and RJ Hope and juniors Cam McNeil and Pyles — all of whom play on both sides of the ball — will be looked up to as leaders.
“They’re always here,” Coach Mark Brown said. “They don’t miss. They’ve exhibited a lot of leadership qualities so far in the locker room and on the field. Basically telling the other kids how to hustle, how to be on time and how to conduct themselves wherever they are.
“I think Joe and a lot of our players are gonna have to be two-way players. Joe and Cam McNeil — both of them are playing running back and then are gonna turn around and play linebacker. We’ve got RJ Hope — he plays defensive end for us and then turns around and plays tight end. Zion Gee may play offensive tackle and then defensive tackle. Across that front line we’ve got Ryan Pyles out here, and this is his third year starting center. He’s got some great experience up there.”
Games — who is entering his second season as the starting quarterback — has liked what he’s seen throughout the offseason and leading into the schedule.
“Both our offense and defense are looking really good. Special teams is looking good,” Games said. “Right now we’re just working on crisping everything up and putting everything together. We’re looking solid all-around. We’re working really hard — and we’re ready.”
Junior Camden Williams returns as Games’ top target. He hauled in 42 passes for 652 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
McNeil finished with 296 yards and a score on 41 carries. Becherer totaled 18 touchdowns last season.
Junior placekicker Brandon Parsons had 39 extra points and a pair of field goals.
After playing a tough schedule last season, which included three conseuctive games against Franklin-Simpson, North Hardin and Christian Academy-Louisville to kick things off, Elizabethtown is looking at another challenging slate.
The Panthers open their campaign Friday against Allen County-Scottsville in the Scottie Bowl at Glasgow before then meeting North Hardin, John Hardin and Central Hardin the next three weeks, giving them plenty of tests right off the bat.
“I like it, but you can schedule yourself into oblivion if you don’t watch it — and I don’t wanna do that,” Brown said. “In some ways we’d rather not be playing these 6A teams that have 60 or 70 kids because in the second half you just get worn down. If I had 50 or 60 kids then we’d play anybody, but when you’re sitting in here with 30 kids it’s just extremely hard to do that.
“We’d been fortunate to win a few games, and some teams our size don’t play us anymore, so we’ve gotta go schedule the games that we can — and that’s why we wind up with so many of these big teams.”
Becherer led the team with 130 tackles, 21 for loss. Senior Jackson Curton was second with 103. McNeil had 78 and Hope 63, 12 for loss, five of which were sacks.
Williams and senior Love Grimes each had five interceptions as the Panthers’ defense forced 32 turnovers.
With months of preparation in the books, including many hot days out on the turf at the Elizabethtown Athletic Complex, the Panthers are ready to get going.
All that’s left to do is making the final adjustments.