There are two terms in which coaches like to use entering each season. Rebuilding or reloading. For the Lufkin Panthers, it should be another season in which they will reload.
Last season the Pack was suppose to experience a rebuilding season in which they lost 41-seniors from their 2001 5A Division II state championship team. 2002, was far from that. Lufkin finished up 2-wins shy of repeating as state champs. If history is any indication of the Panther's prospects this season, let's just say another state title run is not far-fetched.
Let's begin with the numbers. Over the past five seasons, Lufkin has won 10 or more games 3-times. In fact the Pack has won 55 games during this span and has a 16-4 mark in the postseason.
The only dark side has been Tyler Lee. Lufkin has beaten the Red Raiders just once since 1998. That's another story. Let's begin with the reasons why Lufkin is reloading, not rebuilding, and will be a state title contender in 2003.
Offensively, the Panthers main concern will be quarterback. Lufkin graduated Terrance Parks who started one year as the Pack's signal caller after backing up current Texas A&M QB Reggie McNeal for 2-seasons. Parks is now competing for the QB job at Baylor. He leaves some huge shoes to fill, considering he broke McNeal's single season school passing record. Parks passed for 2677 yards in 2002.
The top candidate is junior Ashford Ayers, ironically he wears Reggie McNeal's number 16. According to Lufkin Head Coach John Outlaw, Ayers is a pure athlete that can make things happen. During the Purple-White Spring Game, Ayers shook off tackles, scrambled, and didn't make bad decision on when to pass. He has a striking resemblance to McNeal when he scrambles and looks downfield. The only negative against Ayers is actual Friday night experience under center.
The running game will be there. Gone is one-year starter Brian Rodgers. He will be missed, but there is a locomotive that shared the load of touches a year ago. I'm talking about junior fullback Jorvorskie Lane. As a sophomore Lane rushed for 626 yards and caught 44 balls for 499 yards receiving, add to that Lane accounted for 16 touchdowns combined.
Junior De' Andre Wallace will take over the duties as tailback. He has shown signs of brilliance; in fact Wallace had the longest run from scrimmage in the spring game. Wallace broke for a 30-yard gain. The question mark on Wallace is experience.
The rushing yards and protection for Ayers should be there considering all five starters on the offensive line return from last season. The key returnee has to be center Andy Massingill. Early in the Panther's playoff run Massingill sustained a fractured tibula, a non weight bearing bone, and continued to play with the excruciating pain.
The protection and blocking potential is there, the running game is above average, and the only need to address is targets to pass to. Who will step into the shoes left behind by receiver Quentin Holman? Holman set a loft mark setting a school record snagging 60-receptions for 1175 yards. 6' 3" senior Ray Givens will receive the opportunity to take over as the Panthers' playmaking receiver. Givens racked up 300-yards receiving one year ago.
Another target that may burn secondaries is freshman Leonard Hewitt. Although unproven, he has plenty of speed to burn. Senior tight end Kevin Bryan, an early commit to Texas A&M, will be a reliable secondary receiver that has a nose for finding the open zones in defensive coverages. Bryan doubles as a defensive end as well.
One transition the Pack's offense must adapt to is the leadership by a new offensive coordinator. Rick Cullum resigned to take over as the head football coach and the athletic director position at 4A Willis High School. Outlaw promoted receivers coach Scott Green to O.C. duties; running backs coach David Guzman will assist him. Lufkin averaged 31 ppg game in 2002. As for Lufkin's defense, where do you start? Now that I think about it, one word says it all. SPEED!!!
Head Coach John Outlaw and his staff raved about this defensive unit throughout spring camp. Defensive Coordinator Todd Quick displays a promising smile if you ask him about the potential of Lufkin's defense. That says a lot considering this staff is quick to compliment other programs before their own. For starters, the Panthers' top two tacklers return. Senior linebackers Joseph Hadnot and Tyson Kirksey combined for 201 stops last season. Joining Hadnot and Kirksey in the middle will be #65 McKenner Dixon.
The defensive backfield has some ball hawks. Senior Jacorey Shepard posted 4-picks as junior. Shepard will have some painful company, senior Greg Payne that is. Payne is the headhunter of the Pack's DB's. As a whole, the Purple Swarm defense was solid a year ago, allowing just 196 ypg, but has the tools to improve upon that number.
Now that the praising of Lufkin's potential has been said and done. The Panthers road to the promised land begins August 29 th . Lufkin's schedule is the same as last season except the return road trips.
The Pack will open at Abe Martin Stadium for a home date with perennial state 5A power Katy, then travels across the Angelina River for the oldest rivalry in Texas. Lufkin faces 4A Nacogdoches the following week.