Jerry Brown has found success at every stop along his long and storied coaching career. He won a state championship with Spring Valley in 1988 before leading Berkeley to Class 4A state titles in 1994, 1996 and 2009.
He got out of coaching at the end of 2010 to spend one season as athletics director at Fairfield Central. But the urge to return to the sideline was too much, and he will be entering his second season at Batesburg-Leesville when the Panthers kick off the season Friday night by hosting Chapin.
So why the return to the sidelines?
“I like to be able to influence kids,” Brown said. “They need people to teach them more than just football. We try and teach how to be a good man with good character and work ethic and how to be disciplined. They’ve adjusted and are very excited about the change.”
The Panthers went 5-6 with a first-round playoff exit last year, but Brown believes better days are ahead.
“We’re more experienced since we’re running the same offense and defense for the second straight season,” Brown said. “The kids are more comfortable to the style of coaching they’re getting now as well. It was a huge adjustment for most of these kids.”
Brown will again run the flexbone on offense. Ricky Smith returns at fullback after seeing time there last season. Terrance Wilson and Quay Tolan also have plenty of experience in the backfield. The quarterback is expected to be Jacquiel Chandler.
DT Morris and Austin Coleman return at wide receiver. They will be counted on in helping with the passing game and blocking downfield for the rushing attack.
The offensive line will be led by experienced trio Chip Price, Aubrey Rogers and Morgan Bryant.
Being in the same offense for the second straight season and a good offseason conditioning program have helped the Panthers so far in the preseason.
“The guys doubled their strength in the offseason,” Brown said. “They have more confidence since they are stronger, and their speed has come around, too. We expect big things from Smith. He ended up being the fullback the last two games last year and did well.”
Brown will welcome back the top two tacklers on defense. Linebacker Matt Barr registered more than 70 tackles last season, and defensive end Axiver Small recorded more than 60 tackles. They will combine with Isaiah Cullum and Paul McKiver to form a solid defensive front.
Ray Norris is the only senior in the secondary and will be counted on to lead a young group.
Brown likes the athleticism the skill people on both sides of the ball have shown. He believes the Panthers are better prepared to face another difficult schedule — with an upgrade in talent and being comfortable in what they’re doing.
Brown added that depth remains a concern. Batesburg-Leesville suffered several injuries last year that proved to be pivotal, and those must be avoided this season.
“Injuries impacted us a lot,” Brown said. “Being at a smaller school, if one guy gets hurt, that might end up impacting two positions and even special teams. We need to keep healthy to have a good year.”