Ben Freeman has been at Pelion for 24 years, and he was as impressed with the off-season work of his team as he ever has been. That is leading to increased optimism for the 2013 campaign after a disappointing 4-7 record and first-round exit in the Class 2A playoffs this past season.
“We’ve demanded more from the players and they definitely responded,” Freeman said. “Hopefully, it will pay off with more wins this year. We’ve dedicated ourselves to getting bigger, stronger and faster, and we’ve done that.”
The numbers are slightly down from a year ago, but Freeman will take quality over quantity. Pelion dressed more than 40 players each week last year, and that number will probably be around 35 this year. Freeman hopes to avoid the injury bug, especially to the handful of players expected to contribute heavily both ways.
The Panthers have a star in the making on the offense. Athlete Freddie Phillips, entering his junior season, has garnered the attention of the college recruiters.
He’s a tall, physical receiver that hopes to rebound from a sub-par sophomore season. He caught fewer that 30 passes after a stellar freshman year in which his receptions, yardage and touchdowns were all better. Phillips also will be one of the starting corners.
“He’s going to be a guy we’ll try to do a lot of things with,” Freeman. “He has to touch the ball. We want it in his hands as many times as we can. I think he has a tremendous future.”
Zack Hawkins returns at quarterback after throwing for more than 1,200 yards last year.
The running game will be in the capable hands of Isaiah Jenkins and Ervin Green. Jenkins rushed for more than 400 yards in a reserve role as a sophomore and he could have a breakout season.
“We have some pretty good people back there to give the ball to,” Freeman said.
Kyle Mastos will be one of the better offensive linemen in the Midlands and will be counted on to be the leader up front. He is 6-3, 325 pounds and holds the bench press record at the school.
Joining Phillips in an experienced secondary will be Quincy Kershaw, another two-year starter who is entering his junior year.
Tim Kneece is another player who will play both ways and could be a standout on the defensive line. Octavius Green returns at defensive end and is already 6-3, 225 pounds. Freeman expects him to be a solid pass rusher off the edge.
The Panthers are in the same region as Fairfield Central, the state runner-up last season. Freeman said the Griffins are the team to beat but after that, it should be competitive among Pelion, Columbia, Keenan, Eau Claire and North Central.
“We know Fairfield Central is going to be very tough,” Freeman said. “They had their way with everyone last year, but there’s not much separation in any of the other five.”