LEWISBURG — Tri-County North went undefeated in 2014, winning the third Cross County Conference football title in school history. Last season, the Panthers were one win away from at least tying for the crown, and perhaps one win away from qualifying for the playoffs. This season, the gridders retain enough experience and stability to shoot for their fourth school championship.
Head coach Bill Derringer enters his 13th year as coach of the North Panthers. He was coach from 1992-94, from 2003-2006, and has been currently since 2010. He owns two of the school’s three CCC football trophies, from 2014 and in 1994.
“Last year we finished the season with a seven win, three loss record,” Derringer said. “We were 6-2 in the league and we lost our opener to Brookville but won our other non-league game versus Troy Christian in game seven.”
Several key players moved on from last year. Among them was Preble County Player of the Year Logan Elmore, who was also the Special Teams Player of the Year for the Cross County Conference and All-CCC First Team.
The Panthers also lost quarterback Lane Gunder, running back Garrett Woodyard, linemen Jordan Overcash, Josh MacIntosh, Anthony Duncan, and tight end Colton Scott.
Gunder, Woodyard, Overcash, and Scott were all selected as All-CCC players in 2015.
“Also not returning this season were a couple of players who chose not to play,” added Derringer. “The loss of these players has left a huge void that we have been working to fill this preseason.”
“On our offensive and defensive lines, everyone who we believe will be starting are returning lettermen,” Derringer said. “Although, many of them are still young, due to injuries last season they received valuable playing time and return with this experience. Nineteen of the players on our roster earned a varsity letter last season. We currently have 41 players.”
Key among the returning players is All-CCC First Team running back Tanner Booth (6-1, 210) who complements the power running game North is known for. He is a two-time letterwinner and returning starter. With him running behind a solid offensive line, he looks to be a significant factor for the Panthers’ offense.
Senior Bo Hendrickson (5-11, 155) is pencilled in as the starting quarterback; sophomore Brian Stinson will be the backup. The backfield is loaded with talented and experienced players who will share the carries in the running game; in addition to Booth, there is All-CCC Honorable Mention senior Gavin Overholtz, Zach Edgin (Sr), Drake Coleman (Sr), Alex Kerby (Sr), Mason Dreischarf (So), Liam Downing (So), Jacob Brown (So), Tristen Hayslett (Fr), Jayson Wood (Sr), and Dylan Curtin (So).
The receiving core will be manned by WRs — Trey Kehr (Sr), Braden Gray (So), Casey Whipp (So), and Chayse Eby (So).
The tight ends are a small group but talented, with junior letterman James Fry, and seniors Clifton Conley, and Terrell Lewis.
The offensive lineman figures to be a strength for the Panthers. Those listed as linemen include: Chandler Sproles (Jr), sophomore Preston Jackson who lettered as a freshman last year (6-2 280), senior Kyle Sykes (6-0, 215), Wyatt Hutchins (So) who also lettered as a freshman, Clayton Finney (So), Wyatt Woodyard (So), Dakota Dixon (Jr), Wes Heindl (Jr), Montana Cox (Jr), and senior letterman Chase Gunder.
On the defensive side, the front linemen are equally experienced. Sproles (DE), Wyatt Hutchins (DE), speedy sophomore Jacob Brown (DE) who lettered as a freshman, Fry (6-3 200), tackles Preston Jackson and Dixon (6-1, 255), and senior newcomer Terrell Lewis, will all figure to plug the holes defensively.
The linebackers are loaded with experience and talent. Returning lettermen, seniors Hendrickson, Booth, Conley (5-10, 165), Overholtz (5-9, 165), and Chase Gunder, sophomores Gray (5-8, 160) and Dylan Curtin all return, and are joined by newcomers Philip Lockwood (So), Tristen Hayslett (Fr), Jayson Wood (Sr), and Wyatt Woodyard (So).
The defensive secondary includes Edgin (5-11, 160), Trey Kehr (6-0, 175), Coleman (5-9, 135), Downing (5-9, 155) Kerby (5-9, 150). All are returning players. Mason Dreischarf (5-9, 140), Whipp, Eby, freshman Mason Filbrun, and sophomore Trey Cavendish (5-8, 130) will round out the defensive backfield.
“Other than our incoming freshmen, we only had a couple of new players out this season: senior Jayson Wood and sophomore Philip Lockwood,” said Derringer.
“We are always trying to compete at the highest level that we can,” Derringer said. “If our players play to their potential, I think we can have a very successful year. The key is to bring out the best in each and every player. We have many holes to fill from last season, none more important than the quarterback position. We need our new players to step up this season and I believe that they will. Staying healthy is also critical for our team, as it is most in the Cross County Conference.”
“I believe that for our team to be successful our players need to be: first, in great physical condition; second, prepared by knowing where to line up and what to expect from our opponents and third, confident in that we know what we need to do and how to do it,” Derringer said. “The rest is just execution — getting it done and refusing to lose!”
The Panthers begin their season on Friday, Aug. 26, with a home contest against rival Brookville, who went 12-1 last year. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Reach Oliver Sanders at 937-683-4062 or on Twitter @osanders_RH