Things spiraled downhill quickly a year ago for Geneva.
After starting on a positive note with a 47-22 win over rival Geneva County, the Panthers dropped a 41-0 decision at Providence Christian.
Geneva lost much more than just a game against the Eagles. The team was decimated by injuries.
“We started off real strong and played Geneva County and looked really good,” Geneva coach Les Sanders said. “The next week we lost four two-way starters for the year in the first half (against Providence).
“In Week 4 we ended up starting seven ninth-graders – and three of them up front. We just really got down to no subs.”
The Panthers struggled to a 4-6 record, which included losing four of their last five games.
Sanders and the Panthers have put that behind and are excited about the upcoming season.
Returning senior stars such as Dylan Creech and Kahari McReynolds certainly give the team hope of much better things ahead.
Creech is a 6-foot-1, 220-pound linebacker and running back who is one of the team leaders.
“He’s just a hard worker,” Sanders said. “He’s a throwback guy. He wants to do everything he can – that’s in the classroom, ACT, working out, conditioning on his own – he just wants to be the best he can be. He’s the bulldog; he’s the engine.”
McReynolds is a 5-foot-9, 185-pound running back and cornerback who has loads of talent.
“You can just about play him anywhere on both sides of the ball and he’s going to know what to do,” Sanders said.
Damion Kemmerlin, a junior, is expected to step into the starting quarterback role after being a back-up at the position a year ago.
“He throws the ball well,” Sanders said. “He has a lot of improvement to do, but we feel real comfortable with him.
“He’s been in some game action (at QB) and had to make some plays and throws when the game counted, so we feel real comfortable moving him in there. He’s not a rah-rah guy, but we have enough around him that are.”
Timothy McReynolds and Justin Russ are returners at wide receiver.
“We’ve got enough intangibles that we can move some folks around and we believe that’s going to be our strong point,” Sanders said.
Konnor Owens and Clayton Hall return as starters across the offensive line. Hughston Kinman, Dayton Landingham and Aden Seay are also projected starters on the front.
“We’ve got a couple kids back from injury,” Sanders said. “Clayton Hall got hurt in that (Providence) game with one of those high ankle sprains and probably missed six games. He’s one of our better offensive and defensive linemen.
“Aden Seay is back who lived in our town, but for family reasons was going to another school. He started for Charles Henderson last year. He’s a big, strong kid and one of our better linemen.
“We have another senior, Hughston Kinman, who played as a ninth and 10th grader but didn’t play last year. He’s a big, strong kid who is going to help us.”
Defensively, the secondary is a strength with Kahari McReynolds, Kemmerlin and Timothy McReynolds all returning as starters in the secondary.
“I’m real excited about those guys,” Sanders said.
Creech is the leader of the unit at linebacker. Noah Johnson and Walt Watkins are also projected starters at linebacker spots, while Avery Perry and Russ will be counted on in the secondary.
Sanders likes the depth across the defensive front.
“On the defensive line, we have about eight guys who we know can play,” Sanders said. “Last year, our top four guys averaged 112 plays, and that’s just too much.”
Creech and Russ can be used as punters and Johnson is expected to be the placekicker.
“Dylan punted for us last year, but Justin Russ may take over that,” Sanders said. “If Dylan and Justin are even close, that’s another play Dylan doesn’t have to chase down.
“Johnson can’t kick it real far, but he’s an athlete and we’re working on it. Last year we went for 2 most of the time because we just weren’t consistent. Punting we feel real good, but extra points we’re still in flux with.”
Sanders was pleased with summer workouts.
“The kids we started with this summer, we ended with every one of them,” Sanders said. “We did a lot of conditioning. Being at a smaller school, we have a lot of kids that play both ways. (Grades) nine through 12 we ended with 43, which is about normal for us.”
PANTHERS AT A GLANCE
>> Head coach: Les Sanders (5th year at Geneva, 18-21; 10th year in as a head coach, 58-41)
>> 2018 record: 4-6 record overall, 1-6 in Class 3A, Region 2
>> 2018 results: at Geneva County (W, 47-22); at Providence Christian # (L, 0-41); Pike County # (L, 22-27); at Opp # (W, 49-33); Samson (W, 16-0); Straughn # (L, 14-27); at Houston Academy # (L, 28-37); Slocomb # (L, 56-63); Wicksburg # (L, 21-42); Calhoun (W, 49-12)
>> Points scored/per game: 302/30.2
>> Points allowed/per game: 304/30.4
>> Returning offensive starters (7): QB/WR Damion Kemmerlin (Jr., 5-9, 140); RB Dylan Creech (Sr., 6-1, 220); RB Kahari McReynolds (Sr., 5-9, 180); WR Timothy McReynolds (So., 5-9, 145); WR Justin Russ (So., 5-9, 135); OL Konner Owens (So., 6-0, 235); OL Clayton Hall (Sr., 5-10, 240).
>> Returning defensive starters (4): LB Dylan Creech (Sr., 6-1, 220); DB Kahari McReynolds (Sr., 5-9, 180); DB Damion Kemmerlin (Jr., 5-9, 155); DB Timothy McReynolds (So., 5-10, 145)
Aug. 29 (Thu) Geneva County
Sept. 6 Providence Christian #
Sept. 13 at Pike County #
Sept. 20 Opp #
Sept. 27 at Samson
Oct. 4 at Straughn #
Oct. 11 Houston Academy #
Oct. 18 at Slocomb #
Oct. 25 at Wicksburg #
Nov. 1 at Calhoun
# Denotes region games