WEST ALEXANDRIA — Not since 1999 has a Cross County Conference football championship been crowned at Twin Valley South. The long absence has the Panthers hungry for another trophy to shine in their display case.
First-year head coach Clint Bartlett takes over the program for former coach Tyler Cates, who moved on to another school.
“I know that last year’s team graduated some quality kids. But we have a good core of kids back for this season. They have been working really hard over the summer, so I’m proud of them all and eager to see them start playing,” Bartlett said.
Offensively last season, the Panthers were more of a spread option, pistol formation type of team. Under Bartlett, South will become more of a traditional two-back offense and place more emphasis on the running game.
Bartlett said he will use a more simplified defense with more base formations and simpler coverage.
Twin Valley South’s seniors all lettered last year. Roughly over 40 players are on the roster.
Mike Myers will be the starting quarterback for the team as a senior. He is playing the position for the first time in his career, and the system is new.
“Anytime you have to break in a new quarterback is tough,” Bartlett defended. “He has to step up at the varsity level and it’s tough for anyone — but Mike can do it.”
Bartlett is confident in his backfield, starting with returning starter and All-CCC Honorable Mention speedster Sammy Shockey. The stable is loaded with six total backs who are expected to play. Seniors Jared Cottingim and Andrew Augspurger and juniors Ryan Bassler and Ryan Johnson all figure to contribute in the running game.
Despite having a running offense, the receiving corps wants to be significant as well. Senior Troy Bowers is coming back, and senior Gage Pollack, sophomore Cade Cottingim and senior Charles Lainhart will look for open passes to shred opposing defenses.
“Our potential guys are not a go-to guy, so we can spread the ball around and not lock onto just one man,” said Bartlett.
The offensive line boasts a number of strong men, despite the loss of 2015 Offensive Lineman of the Year Aaron Deaton. Led by seniors Izik Paxson and Blake Holp, they will anchor the trenches with juniors John Gray and Wyatt Burke and a number of players who will push defenses around.
“We have a nice mix of big guys and technique guys in the trenches,” Bartlett said. “They have good footwork and are very technical, who have to learn to move around. We have about nine or 10 guys, both young and old, who figure to see some playing time.”
The defense will be anchored up front by Jared Cottingim, Mike Myers, Burke, Paxson, and John Brown. Linebackers are looking to be a strength as well.
“Our backers are a solid group of kids,” said Bartlett. “We have Bassler, Austin Eaton (junior), Augspurger, and Wendell Webb who like to hit and are just good overall.”
Twin Valley’s defensive secondary will be boosted by Shockey and Johnson. Others looking to see significant playing time are Cade Cottingim, Lainhart, and sophomore Tommy Lafone.
The first game of the regular season pits the Panthers on the road against Dixie on Friday, Aug. 26.
“Dixie is a strong team that is well coached and has a strong core of players throughout their roster,” said Bartlett. “We have to take them seriously in order to start off the season with momentum. We want to win the CCC and and make it to the playoffs for the first time in a very long time. But we have to take things one game at a time and never lose our focus.”
Reach Oliver Sanders at 937-683-4062 or on Twitter @osanders_RH.