Ah, yes, football is BACK. High school and college ball are in full swing, and the NFL will start today. It’s been a long time coming but worth the wait.
Witness last Friday’s clash between rivals Pascagoula and Gautier, won by the Gators 52-41. It was a wild, entertaining contest before a big crowd at War Memorial Stadium, and showed off the surfeit of talent boasted by the two local teams.
Over the Labor Day weekend, I was able to conduct an informative question and answer session with Panther Head Coach Lewis Sims. Here is a transcript of that interview.
RBL: After a couple of down seasons record-wise, the Panthers have come back strong the last two years. To what do you attribute that?
LS: Two things: Number one, we have benefited from a great group of young men and coaches who have been committed to elevating the program, and two, we have had tremendous leadership from the player side over the past three years. These factors have contributed most to our resurgence.
RBL: COVID has been strange to navigate, but PHS seems to have handled it well as a program. Comment on that.
LS: Based on Friday night, we as a staff are evaluating exactly how we can better navigate a quarantine situation. Limited practice time, missing players due to quarantine, inconsistent meal times, and hydration are all factors that we must handle better if we want to be successful. These are unprecedented and unpredictable times, so we as a coaching staff must adapt to whatever our team needs to keep them physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared.
RBL: Talk about this year’s team in general, and some things we should look for in the team’s approach.
LS: With the offense returning a lot of experience and production, they should be able to score points and give us opportunities to be in every game. We are experienced at the offensive line, wide receiver, and quarterback positions. Running back will be a highlight for us with Isaiah Benn and Cameron Deflanders carrying the ball. (Editor’s note: Benn rushed for 247 yards on 28 carries and Defenders 63 on 6 against Gautier—pretty stout.) Tyrus Burton and Carter McCullough anchor the offensive line along with Jeremy Flora, Jaderrious Robbins, and Hayden Portwine. Houston Johnson, Connor Young, Nylan Harper, Brennen Grubbs, Josh Forsman, and B.J. Barnes are who to look for outside. Of course, Keilon Parnell brings 25 games of experience to the quarterback role.
RBL: I know you don’t always like to single individuals out, but talk about what Keilon means to the team from a talent and leadership standpoint.
LS: He is of what is called the Captain Class! Keilon elevates the play of all those around him. He is still learning the nuances of quarterback, but he is humble and coachable, which makes him dangerous.
RBL: Who are some guys who can make a difference for the defense?
LS: Fred Cook, Josh Battles, Jeffrey Rush, Gerald Terrell, and Riley Schenkiwitz along with Big John Shuemaker should anchor the defensive front along with Kolby Gamble and freshman Destin Franklin. Some other youngsters to watch are Jacordan Davis, Chris Campbell, and Jaylon Parnell.
RBL: It appears that the future looks bright for Pascagoula football and for PHS in general. Agree?
LS: Yes, we have a really good core of athletes across all sports and all grades. Our new athletic director, Steve Engle, is working hard to get all programs everything they need to be successful. His leadership will be critical in helping steer all our programs in the direction of championship staus that we have achieved of late. Welcome, Coach Engle, to Panther Nation!
Coach Sims is always generous with his time and informative with his answers. He is very correct about the state of Panther athletics, as Pascagoula dominated the region this past year with championships in several sports, including the PHS football team making it to the South State finals. It’s great to have another high school sports year started, and here’s wishing success to all our Jackson County schools. Like I always say, see you at the stadium.