It's been a few years since Merryville felt stability on its coaching staff. Randy Jones is aiming to provide that.
"A lot of the years the coaches haven't been here for us and they always vanish," said linebacker Ethan Thompson. "This year, he told the principal that he'll be here for five years and I believe that. I might not be here for five years, but he will. I buy into that because he's a good coach."
And when rebuilding a program, that's where it starts.
Throw out the fact Merryville hasn't posted a winning season since 2001, Jones says his players are working their way up.
"Last year we were very young, and we're still very young. We only graduated for seniors last year," Jones said. "That has allowed us to have a lot of kids playing at a younger age to be ready."
The Panthers aim to change the narrative surrounding their program.
"Our hope is that we're going to be competitive in district, when it comes around. Last year, we were not and that's what it boils down to."
"We have a couple of new people and we're really excited. We've all been hitting the weight room really hard," said center Landon Matthews. "We're all excited to be on the field."
And it will need to start on defense.
In 2016, Merryville allowed 36 points per game, so the coaching staff hit the halls to find players.
"Our numbers increased and we got some of the kids out of the hallway that weren't playing football and actually they were good size kids," Jones admitted. "We're going to be a little bit bigger on the defensive front and our linebacking corps will be experienced and quick enough to take care of business. "
The offense however, may be where Merryville really shines this season. 1,500-yard rusher Desmond McCain returns, down 15 pounds from a year ago. The offensive line in front of him, brings back multiple starters led by Matthews.
"I feel like I'm in a big leadership role. I've got to lead and show the younger one the ropes," Matthews said. "I've got to call a lot of plays from the line to help them out."
"Last year we were a little on the side of weak and we needed to mature and get stronger. The off-season did that for us," said Jones. "Our ability to be able to throw a little bit better this year is going to help us. We're going to have a few more weapons."
The Panthers arc to an improved season started in the off-season, one that Jones saw promise in.
"How far can we go? It really depends on the kids and I've told them, it can be special. If we all stay together, it can be special."
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