By Richard Greene | Originally published Wednesday, August 29, 2012
The Paradise Panthers’ 2011 season followed a painfully familiar script.
After a strong start, going 5-1, the Panthers struggled down the stretch and dropped their final four games to finish 5-5 and out of the playoffs by a game.
“We were one game short,” said senior halfback and safety Josh McDowell. “We were pretty upset. Hopefully, we’ll make it this year.”
Part of the problem down the stretch were injuries – primarily up front.
“We were playing good by the fifth game,” said coach Danny Neighbors. “Then we lose our center, guard and a tackle. The injuries to the offensive line probably cost us a playoff spot.”
It extended the Panthers’ drought without a playoff spot to three seasons – since 2008. The Panthers return six players on each side of the ball, but there will a lot of inexperience at the other spots.
“We’ve got a team that has a chance to get better as we play,” Neighbors said. “These groups were successful at the lower levels. We’ll have to see if they can do what it takes to win games in the fourth quarter. That’s what I want to see, and we’ll find out.”
Neighbors points out the group’s athleticism will give the team flexibility, specifically on offense with McDowell, Jarrett Roper, Tanner Valentine and Hayden Brown.
“We have athletes,” Neighbors said. “I was pleased with how we played in 7-on-7. We’ll see how we play when the pads come on.”
While finding speedy athletes may not have been a problem for the Panthers, big bodies up front are not as plentiful. Outside of tackles Jordan Carter and Braden Broussard, the Panthers do not have a lot of size.
“We are small up front,” Neighbors said.
Senior fullback and defensive end Roper said the Panthers know how to make up for a lack of size.
“We’re not going to be to the biggest,” Roper said. “We have to fire off and hit them in the mouth.”
Offensively, the Panthers must rebuild the offensive line that returns two starters – Carter and Broussard. Paradise must also replace the production of Andrew Sims and Kale Johnson, who teamed to supply more than 1,500 yards of offense.
Roper returns to the backfield after running for 666 yards and adding 455 receiving last year. The Panthers will slide McDowell from quarterback to halfback to replace the versatile Sims.
Taking over under center will be Valentine, who saw action late in the year, throwing for 100 yards and running for 36.
Defensively, the Panthers had their moments last year, holding three straight opponents to single digits. But Paradise gave up more than 400 yards in two of its three final games – Boyd and Pottsboro.
The unit’s top three tacklers are gone from last year, but Neighbors said there is a lot of experience coming back.
“We have a lot of kids that played a lot,” Neighbors said.
The Panthers return experience at the defensive end spots with Roper and Broussard.
At linebacker, Taylor Edwards, Hayden Brown and Dusty Givens are expected to become playmakers.
Safeties McDowell and Kyler Christian give the Panthers athleticism at the back end of the unit.
The Panthers’ task of getting to the playoffs will not be easy in a tough District 5-2A Division I with returning members Boyd, Ponder and Callisburg. Added to the mix are three teams dropping down from 3A – Pilot Point, Whitesboro and Bowie.
Bowie and Whitesboro were each playoff teams a year ago.
“It’s a very tough district,” Neighbors said. “I feel we’ll have a good team, but there will be five other good teams. It’ll be a matter of whoever is peaking at the right time. Every game in district will be very important.”
The Panthers learned that the hard way the past two seasons – a lesson they are ready to put to use.
“We were right there in a lot of close games last year,” Roper said. “We have to play as hard as we can for all four quarters.”
OFFENSE: PANTHERS LOOK TO SPREAD IT OUT
Josh McDowell began last season as the Paradise Panthers’ starting quarterback and guided the team to a 5-1 start.
Injuries to the offensive line in front him limited the entire offense’s effectiveness down the stretch as the Panthers dropped their final four games.
As a senior, McDowell will not be back under center. The Panthers are moving him to halfback to spread the field and try to give the versatile player an opportunity to make plays in space.
“We’re asking Josh to do a lot of things,” said Paradise coach Danny Neighbors. “He has a lot of athleticism and the ability to make plays in the open field.”
McDowell will try to fill the role of Andrew Sims, who supplied more than 1,000 yards of offense while lined up in several spots on the field.
McDowell said the new role will take some adjusting to, but he is willing to do it.
“I’m a little disappointed that I can’t play quarterback,” he said. “But whatever helps the team I’m going to do.”
With McDowell sliding over in the backfield, Tanner Valentine becomes the Panthers’ full-time quarterback. Valentine saw limited action under center last year, throwing for 100 yards and running for 36 in three games.
“We’re confident with Tanner back there,” Neighbors said. “He’s going to provide leadership and will make plays. He throws the ball well.”
The Panthers’ inside running game should be strong with battering ram Jarrett Roper at fullback. Roper ran for 666 yards last year and caught 36 passes for 455 yards.
“He’s a big threat on the inside,” Neighbors said. “He looks good and has the confidence as a senior.”
The Panthers don’t have a lot of experience on the outside with Kyler Christian, Chris Lowery, Corbin Wilson, Jarret Holt and Cody Carmichael.
“All were productive on the JV,” Neighbors said. “Can they take the next step. That’s what they’ve got to prove.”
The group that will have the most to prove and may ultimately determine the Panthers’ success on offense is the line. The group returns just two starters – tackles Braden Broussard and Jordan Carter. Robert Bruton will take over at center. Jacob Owens and Brandon Gober are penciled in at the guards spots with Charlie Hanks and Nathan Ashton.
“We’ve got bodies,” Neighbors said. “We’ve got to get them experience. We’re going to have to have guys step up. The biggest thing will be adjusting to the speed of the game.”
They will need to adjust quickly to give McDowell and company a chance to make plays.
DEFENSE: FINDING THEIR WAY
Jarrett Roper and his fellow bookend, Braden Broussard, on the Paradise Panthers’ defensive line take different approaches, but share the same deadly goal – punish the opposing ball carrier.
“Braden is the big end and I have to be the quick one,” Roper said. “I work on the feet and try to be quicker. I know I have to fire off every play and hit them in the mouth.”
The Panthers are hoping Broussard and Roper find their way to opposing backfields often as they are veteran leaders of a defense that lost many to graduation in Kale Johnson, Tyler Cobb, Chase Reynolds and Andrew Sims.
“Last year, we had a very strong defense, but we lost a lot of leaders,” Roper said. “We’ve got a lot of kids coming up, but we have the potential to play like last year.”
Over the first half of the season the Panthers’ defense was solid. Paradise allowed only one team to gain more than 300 yards over the first seven games. Then the unit gave up more than 400 in two of its final three games against Boyd and Pottsboro.
While the three top tacklers are gone from last year – Johnson, Cobb and Dylan Moore – the Panthers have plenty of players back that saw time.
“We’ve got a lot of kids that played,” said Paradise coach Danny Neighbors. “We have six back that had extensive playing time.”
Roper and Broussard bring back a combined 60 tackles – 13 for losses – and three sacks. Robert Bruton, Lucas Adams and Nathan Ashton will see time in the middle at nose guard.
“Our defensive line should be good,” Neighbors said. “The defensive ends will be pretty good.”
With Broussard’s size and versatility, the Panthers can easily slide into a four-man front.
At linebacker, Hayden Brown and Taylor Edwards are expected to be leaders along with Corbin Holt and Dusty Givens. Brown is the most experienced of the backers with more than 20 tackles last year as a junior.
“These guys got quite a bit of experience last year,” Neighbors said. “Edwards is a good, strong kid. Givens has good quickness.”
The secondary returns Josh McDowell at free safety along with Kyler Christian and Tanner Valentine at the other safety spot.
Their speed and ability to provide support against the run is critical for the Panthers.
What Neighbors likes about his defense overall is its quickness.
“They all can run to the ball,” he said. “You need as much speed on defense as you can get.”
That’s OK with the 6-3, 255-pound offensive tackle.
“I just protect the quarterback and make holes for the running back,” Broussard said. “You don’t get the glory. But it’s fun. You get to hit someone every play.”
And Broussard is one of the area’s best at his job. Last season, he graded out at 92 percent on the line with six pancake blocks. That was despite playing with a severely injured shoulder that required surgery.
This year, he’s added weight and strength. Paradise coach Danny Neighbors expects the four-year starter to be at his best.
“He wants to be a difference maker,” Neighbors said. “He’s put on about 25 pounds and recovered from his injury.”
Broussard has been a mainstay in the Panthers’ lineup since his earliest high school days.
“The second week my freshman year I came up,” he recalled. “It was crazy. I was nervous and excited. I always wanted to play on Friday night.”
With his size and strength, he’s always been able to hold his own with defensive ends coming at him. But Neighbors said the lineman’s greatest strength is mental.
“He’s long and able to use his leverage,” Neighbors explains. “But it’s his intelligence that makes him good. He’s very intelligent. And with his dad being a coach, he’s always around the game and understands everything.”
Broussard’s father, Scott, is the team’s defensive coordinator. Since his sophomore year, he’s played a little more each year on his father’s side of the ball at defensive end. Last year, he started both ways. He’s expected to carry the same load this year.
Broussard made 32 tackles last year with four for losses. He added a sack and caused a fumble.
The sacks are a chance for Broussard to stand out, which he enjoys.
“It’s one of the best things when you whip your guy and get to the quarterback,” he said.
Broussard’s size and ability on the defensive side of the ball give the Panthers added flexibility. He can line up at end or get down and play tackle.
“He’s a natural three-tech,” Neighbors said. “But because his technique is so good, he can play end.”
Though most of his work may go unnoticed to the casual fan, Broussard doesn’t mind as long as the season ends with the Panthers in the playoffs. He’s been the part of two straight teams that have come up a game short of the postseason.
“We don’t want to go through that again,” he said. “We’ve got to be mentally tough and finish out an extra few games.”
2012 PARADISE PANTHERS
2 … Cody Blackstock … SE/LB … 11
3 … Dusty Givens … RB/LB … 12
4 … Kyler Christian … SE/CB … 12
5 … Josh McDowell … QB/FS … 12
6 … Callahan Storey … RB/CB … 12
7 … Chris Lowery … RB/CB … 12
8 … Ethan Carey … SE/CB … 11
10 … Jarret Holt … SE/CB … 11
11 … Tanner Valentine … QB/FS … 11
12 … Hayden Brown … RB/LB … 12
15 … Cody Carmichael … SE/CB … 11
20 … Taylor Edwards … RB/LB … 11
21 … Robert Norvell … RB/LB … 11
24 … Nathan Doughty … SE/CB … 11
27 … Corbin Holt … TE/LB … 11
28 … Jarrett Roper … RB/DE … 12
29 … Mile Headley … SE/DE … 11
33 … Corbin Wilson … RB/LB … 11
34 … Jordan McConnell … SE/CB … 12
44 … Cyle Cox … SE/CB … 11
50 … Jacob Owens … C/DE … 12
51 … Nathan Ashton … OG/NG … 11
52 … Brandon Gober … OG/LB … 12
54 … Jordan Carter … OC/LB … 12
55 … Lucas Adams … OT/NG … 12
58 … Luke Rogers … OT/DE … 10
60 … Robert Bruton … C/NG … 12
67 … Patrick Mundy … OT/DE … 11
70 … Luke Miller … OT/NG … 11
75 … Brandon McCutchen … OG/NG … 10
76 … Braden Broussard … OT/DE … 12
77 … Charlie Hanks … PG/DE … 11
80 … Daniel Alexander … TE/LB … 11
85 … Qwinton Odom … SE/DE … 11
Aug. 31 … Grandview … Here
Sept. 7 … Henrietta … Here
Sept. 13 … Leonard … Denton
Sept. 21 … Krum … There
Sept. 28 … Open
Oct. 5 … Whitesboro*# … Here
Oct. 12 … Bowie* … There
Oct. 19 … Pilot Point* … Here
Oct. 26 … Callisburg* … There
Nov. 2 … Boyd* … Here
Nov. 9 … Ponder* … There
All games at 7:30 p.m. unless otherwise noted
*Denotes District 5-2A games
# Denotes homecoming