Pigskin Peek: Panthers set to reach next level in 2016

cffoot-21runIn the first two years of Marc Morris’ rebuilding project at Carolina Forest, the foundation was laid and the transition was made from league laughing stock to playoff team. This season, the Panthers are ready to take it to the next level.

After going 5-7 overall and 3-2 in Region 6-4A play last season, Carolina Forest qualified for the playoffs and lost to state power Goose Creek in the first round by a respectable 39-27 score. This year the Panthers move up to Class 5A – along with all the other members of the region. Morris is well aware of what they face and expects his team to more than ready for the challenge.

“The 5A thing is no big deal to us because it is the same region we were in last season. We are in a great conference. Sumter and Conway were two really good football teams, and they are going to be really good this year,” Morris said. “South Florence and West Florence both do a good job, and Coach Illing does a good job at Socastee. You don’t go in each week without your hat turned right and ready to go.”

The Panthers have some serious offensive weapons to compete for a region title. Running back Dyverse Simmons, one of the leading rushers in the area, comes back from last year at tailback, and Matt Beale is back at quarterback with a slew of receivers at his command, such as Ismael Garcia, Damon McDowell and Freddie Kane. Dean Duncan looks to be a role in center, while Tyler Marchese should add another dimension to the offense at tight end and wide receiver.

“We’ve had a good summer, and a good first of the year, and I thought that our first scrimmages went well. Our kids played hard. The thing about the summer time is that with practice, they are going to get better,” Morris said. “Now in August, we are trying to get better and hopefully make the playoffs. We want to be playing our best football by the end of the year, so we have long, long road ahead of us. So far, the kids have done a great job.”

The Panthers return only three starters back on defense from last season. David Benson will be called upon to help lead the defensive line. Morris commented on the fact that even with a number of returners, there should be a good mixture of youth and experience within the starters.

“I am not going to say that we have a veteran group because we have some guys plugging in off of an 8-1 junior varsity team, but they have to step up and play some Friday night football,” Morris added. “We expect a lot out of our guys. We are looking to guys to step into those roles. We expect our regular guys coming back to even have bigger roles this year.”

The Panthers were impressive in Friday’s CNB Kickoff Classic appearance, a 28-0 victory over Class 3A Waccamaw, but face a much tougher task in their season opener at Fairmont (NC) on Aug. 19.

Photo by Joel Beachum

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