Preview: Panthers to build on successes
To hear Ledford coach Chris Adams and his players talk about their upcoming football schedule, no one would guess this is a team coming off a losing season.
Entering his fourth year with the Panthers, Adams is excited about a group that finished last season with a 5-7 record. He sees an upward trend emerging despite losing one more game last year than in 2011.
"The difference between last year and the year before last is we lose four games by less than a touchdown," Adams said. "If you find a way to win two of those games, you have a seven-win season. It's a pretty exciting time, especially with this senior group. This is the group we started with when they were in ninth grade. We've had them for four years, and we're excited about how far they've come."
In order to improve on those successes, Ledford must replace the production of departed quarterback Duke Boger. In his place, senior Bubba White will give the team a more traditional look in the passing game. Instead of using his feet to keep defenders off-balance, White relies on a superb arm to attack defenses.
Joining him in the backfield are Dalton Harris and George Melvin. Harris, a tailback, led the team in rushing last season after Melvin, the squad's fullback, went down with a season-ending injury. Up front, Ledford believes it has the size and tenacity to move the chains.
"I think, this year, we have a lot of talent coming back, a bigger offensive line and the same coaching staff coming back," White said. "We're going to keep building and this year, we've got that core group of guys back who have really made our offense successful. I think it's going to be a special season."
As exciting as the prospects of opening up the offense a bit more this season may be, the player who could represent the key to Ledford's season may be the one who saw the field least last season. Melvin will enter his third year of varsity as the lead back and will be relied upon heavily to shoulder the load in the Panthers' run-first offense.
Traditionally, Ledford has produced some of the area's leading rushers. Melvin is anxious to prove he can be that type of player the team expected him to be last season before being sidelined with the injury.
"I really just expect to give my team my all and try to stay healthy, because I missed the season last year with a broken ankle," Melvin said. "I feel like I have a lot to prove to my coaching staff, to my team, that I can stay healthy and give production for my team. That's just what I've got to do."
Defensively, the Panthers return more than half of their starters, including an experienced linebacking corps led by senior Austin Stilley. Tyler Hall, Chaz Shields, Drue Canada, Chris Craven, Tavis Lindsay and Lupe Cervantes are among the upperclassmen who have logged playing time.
Defensive coordinator Chris Doby's scheme will be predicated on the team's ability to "build depth," something he said is a point of emphasis this year. Doby said his unit will be relegated to playing both sides of the ball, and players are expected to make an impact as both offensive and defensive weapons.
"We are installing a two-way practice plan," Doby said. "We're trying to get them out of the mindset of being an offensive or defensive player, and instead being a football player."
With more experienced football players and fewer specialists, look for Ledford to take the next step toward challenging for a Mid-Piedmont 3-A Conference title. That task will be made difficult by a Southern Guilford squad that won 11 games last year. Among middle-tier teams last year, however, the Panthers fared very well and should be able to make the minor adjustments necessary to win one-score games.
Adams said he believes this is the most talented group he has coached in four seasons and thinks they can finally break through to post a winning record.
Staff Writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 888-3575, or firstname.lastname@example.org.