Panthers counting on perimeter players
Graduation gutted the trenches of Piedmont High's varsity football team.
The Panthers made a successful jump from 2A to 3A last season, finishing 8-5 and reaching the second round of the playoffs. Having an experienced, physical line on both sides of the ball helped.
But seven of their eight starting linemen from last year are gone, including the entire defensive front. Most of them were big and strong, and two are now playing in college.
The Panthers will be undersized on the line in 2014, but hope to offset it with quickness and technique.
Junior left guard Dillion Chaney, entering his third year as a starter, is the veteran of the group and the biggest guy on either side of the line at 6-foot, 250.
"We're hoping our quickness can make up for our lack of size on the line," Chaney said. "We're been physical and aggressive on both sides of the ball."
Senior quarterback Cameron Tripp has taken notice of the intensity.
"There's usually a couple fights in the trenches every day," Tripp said.
The skill positions are the strength of the team.
Tripp accounted for nearly 2,000 yards of offense as a dual threat QB last season. A polished veteran, the 6-6, 200-pound Tripp turned down a full ride to Alabama Birmingham to play for Harvard.
Four of Piedmont's top five offensive weapons from last year return, including tailback Aaron Braswell, receiver Cody Leviner and wing back Mitchell Woody.
"I think Mitchell will get a lot of the carries Matt (Lucas) got last year," Tripp said.
Lucas will be replaced at the other wingback spot by the combination of juniors Khris Missick and Trevor Barnette.
Missick and Woody, both cornerbacks on defense, could be the only two-way starters on the roster. Braswell started both ways last year, so his experience at safety will also be useful.
Senior Ben Radford is starting opposite Leviner at receiver, and junior JT Reid, a rangy starting safety, will also go out for passes.
"This is the most talent we've had at the skill positions in my four years," said Piedmont senior Rhett Byrum, a third-year starter at outside linebacker who will also carry the ball on offense. "We lost a lot of veterans on the line but our skills guys are looking really good. Tripp has been so sharp."
The Panthers return 11 combined starters on offense and defense plus kicker Taylor Baucom, and get an infusion of talent from a junior varsity team that lost only once (21-20 against Weddington).
"We're probably better than we were this time last year," Chaney said. "We hardly lost any skill guys. ... As a line we knew what we were losing and we pushed ourselves harder than we did the year before. If we know our technique, there's no way we should be any different."
The Panthers had six games decided by seven points or less last year and won half of them. Or as Byrum sees it, they lost half of them, including the second round playoff game at Concord (21-14).
"We missed some opportunities last year," Byrum said. "We could have done better."
Byrum says the defense is faster this year, and believes their size at linebacker will help offset a smaller but quicker defensive line.
Senior inside linebacker Dalton Craig (5-10, 215) had 115 tackles last season, according to ucncfootball.com, and Byrum had a team-high 23 tackles for loss.
Byrum calls junior inside linebacker Jordan Deese (6-0, 220) "one of the hardest hitters on the team" and raves about the upside of sophomore outside LB Garrett Hinson.
Byrum was a running back in middle school and as a freshman on J.V. before focusing on defense the past two seasons. He welcomes the opportunity to carry the ball again, but will now do it with about 30 pounds of muscle he's added since his sophomore year.
"I've been getting a good amount of reps on offense," he said. "I hope to get some carries. I love the offensive side of the ball."
The Panthers, who are 13-12 under third-year coach Ron Massey, want to build on last year's eight-win season.
"Last year was a good year, but now we want more," Chaney said. "I think winning a playoff game last year made us hungrier for this year."
"The program is different now," Byrum said. "It's more competitive than it was. We have more guys committed now because if you're not you'll lose your job. Last year we proved we can compete as a 3A school when a lot of people didn't think we could."
Due to stadium renovations, the Panthers will play their first four games on the road this season starting at Hickory Ridge on Aug. 22.
They will get just four chances to play in front of the home crowd — unless they do well enough to host in the playoffs.
Tripp expects the Panthers to go as far as the linemen will take them.
"Our line has always been the anchor of our team," Tripp said. "We're putting our faith in those guys and I believe they'll come through. I believe it will be a successful season for us."
Piedmont High's Projected Starters
Pos. Name Ht. Wt. Grade
QB Cameron Tripp 6-6 200 Sr.
RB Aaron Braswell 6-1 180 Sr.
WB Mitchell Woody 5-9 160 Sr.
WB Khris Messick 5-10 165 Jr.
LT Nathan Burgess 5-11 170 Sr.
LG Dillion Chaney 6-0 250 Jr.
C Colton Belk 5-10 200 Sr.
RG Mark Jackson 5-9 230 Sr.
RT Cory Deviney 6-0 215 Sr.
WR Cody Leviner 5-10 160 Sr.
WR Ben Radford 5-9 150 Sr.
DE Ben Mosley 5-11 220 Jr.
NG Tyler Scott 5-11 205 Sr.
DE Jaleel Mungo 5-11 220 Jr.
LB Rhett Byrum 5-9 185 Sr.
LB Jordan Deese 6-0 220 Jr.
LB Dalton Craig 5-10 215 Sr.
LB Garrett Hinson 5-11 180 So.
CB Mitchell Woody 5-9 160 Sr.
S JT Reid 6-2 180 Jr.
S Trevor Barnette 5-11 170 Jr.
CB Khris Missick 5-9 170 Jr.
Kicker: Taylor Baucom, Sr.
Punter: Haden Gsell, Jr.
Piedmont's 2014 football schedule
Aug. 22 at Hickory Ridge
Aug. 29 at Porter Ridge
Sept. 5 at Parkwood
Sept. 12 at Forest Hills
Sept. 19 OPEN
Sept. 26 Central Academy
Oct. 3 at West Stanly
Oct. 10 Sun Valley
Oct. 17 Anson
Oct. 24 at Marvin Ridge
Oct. 31 at Weddington
Nov. 7 Cuthbertson
Piedmont's 2013 results
(8-5 overall, 2-3 in SCC)
Aug. 24 Piedmont 37, Hickory Ridge 20
Aug. 30 Porter Ridge 59, Piedmont 7
Sept. 6 Piedmont 38, Parkwood 31
Sept. 13 Forest Hills 49, Piedmont 35
Sept. 27 Piedmont 17, CATA 7
Oct. 4 Piedmont 34, W. Stanly 26
Oct. 11 Sun Valley 28, Piedmont 14
Oct. 18 Piedmont 40, Anson 33
Oct. 25 Piedmont 27, Marvin Ridge 16
Nov. 1 Weddington 20, Piedmont 14
Nov. 8 Cuthbertson 28, Piedmont 21
Nov. 15 Piedmont 31, Tuscola 17
Nov. 22 Concord 21, Piedmont 14