The Ellsworth Community College football team begins the 2018 season with some changes and excitement in store. With a new head coach and turf field, the Panthers are geared up and ready.
Head Coach Tony Haynes took over for the Panthers in January and is ready for the challenges of his first year at ECC and first year as a head coach. "After going through camp, we figured out our system and now with classes starting we will figure those things out as well," said Haynes. "Its been a simple process settling in, and the community has made it really easy for us. We are still figuring things out at the College and how we work with everyone."
When asked about goals for the upcoming year, Haynes commented, "Our number one team goal going into the season is that we want to get our players to where they want to go. We talk to them about a three-part resume: that of a football player, student and citizen. We want them to work every single day to become the person they need to be in order to get a chance to be recruited to play Division 1 football. When they achieve that, we have reached our goal."
ECC kicks off the season on Thursday, Aug. 23, at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. As the team gets ready for its first game, the focus is becoming a well-disciplined team, eliminating as many mistakes as they can on game day, and having great communication. "Overall we want to eliminate all the negative scenarios," says Haynes. "If we can keep ourselves out of bad situations, we give ourselves a chance to be successful on the field. It's about baby steps first, figuring out how we don't lose a game, and then creating bigger plays and doing some special things with our personnel."
This year, the Panthers' strategy is one game at a time. "We are focusing on preparing for the Hutchinson game and doing our best in that one. We want to put ourselves in a position to win it in the fourth quarter; if we can get that done, that's all we can ask for. We want to walk away from every game knowing that we put together a winning performance. We tell our kids if our focus is just on the scoreboard then we will lose focus, lose concentration, and lose our ability to stay disciplined as a team, and then we aren't going to put ourselves in a position to win."
The Panthers scrimmaged Grand View this past week to finish off the pre-season and fall camp. ECC players have stayed healthy for the most part throughout this time, with only one serious injury. Savion Johnson, who played for the Panthers last year, sustained an injury that will put him out for the season, but the coaches hope he'll be back for spring ball and will be able to transfer and continue his academic and athletic careers.
In addition to a new coaching staff, the Panthers will open their home season on new turf at Cadet Field. ECC was the final school in the conference to get turf, so all games on the schedule will now be played on turf. "When we went out to take a look at the field I'm not sure it meant as much to the new kids, but the returners were really excited not only with the field but the whole atmosphere," said Haynes. "It's a whole new feel and a big positive for us. We we are really looking forward to it. A safety inspection was scheduled for this past Monday, and once they get clearance the Panthers are hoping to get on the field to practice.
The Panthers have a core group of sophomores who they are looking to help lead the team. With a new coaching staff, a lot of changes have been made. "Our sophomores are the guys that through all the changes, they didn't get scared and bale out," said Haynes. "They are excited for the future, and they bought in from the first day. This is why they have been so successful going through fall camp. They bought in quick and have taken on our identity. Definite leadership in this group of men."
The majority of the starting positions for the Panthers will be filled by athletes who were at ECC last season. Keonte Schad (Madison, WI), currently ranked one of the best JUCO defensive lineman, is currently committed to Minnesota and is getting a lot of Division I offers, including from the SEC and Big 10. "Schad is the 'big name' for us right now," says Haynes. "He is as humble of a kid as you have ever met. It's a blessing to have him. He is a great leader, accountable 100 percent, and has bought in for us."
In the linebacker position, the Panthers look to returners Sam Gerst (Waterloo), mid-year transfer Ali Shockley (Rock Hill, SC), Lawson Cook (Dacula, WI) and Jeramey Worthen (West Palm Beach, FL). "These are all guys who were here in the spring and have been with us since day one. They have been ahead of the game on everything," says Haynes.
On the back end for ECC, the Panthers look to returners Naeem Smith (Iowa City) and CJ Burress (Memphis, TN) as their two starting safeties. Roland Williams (Memphis, TN), a mid-year transfer, and Marchaelo Judge (Tampa, FL), a transfer, will be corners for the Panthers.
In the front end, along with Schad, the Panthers look to Brandon Wade (Cartersville, GA), Isaiah Childs (Greenwood, MO) and Ernest Austin (Rockford, IL). "We have a lot of names returning for us," said Haynes. "This makes a huge difference for us. It takes a little bit of the load off of the freshmen for us. We have some good freshmen coming in for us, too."
Freshmen looking to break into the lineup include Maurice White (Detroit, MI) and Isaiah Bellamy (Largo, FL). "These guys are going to be really good," said Haynes. "They can play and learn from the guys that play in front of them. We have a good core on the defensive side of the ball."
On the offensive line, the Panthers will look to returners Bradley Sandiford (Madison, WI), Solomon Pierce (Perry) and Makai Hart (Clinton). "The in-state linemen have done a great job for us," said Haynes." In addition to the returners, ECC adds freshmen Jarrett Horst (Middleton, WI), Mike Brown (Tampa, FL), Juan Claros (Orlando, FL) and Matt Garza (Topeka, KS) to the line.
The Panthers will have options and depth this year at quarterback with returner Jack Bastable (Naperville, IL) and freshman Mark Wright (Carrollton, GA). "These two have been back and forth for the starting quarterback job," says Haynes. "Bastable is a highly intelligent QB and knows where to go with the football; he is a pure passer. We have two guys that can play for us right now, which is a big advantage for us." ECC also has Byron Jarrett (Des Moines), an all-around athlete and leader. "Jarrett will have a bright future here," said Haynes.
At tight end, the Panthers will look to Julius Coates (Rockford, IL), Luke McCall (Zirconia, NC), and Will Weidemann (Clarion) to hold this position. Weidemann will also be starting long snapper. Marquise Mickens (Orlando, FL) and Eric McArn (Detroit, MI) will be at the running back position. Along with Mickens and McArn, the Pathers will also look to returner Brennan McGaffee (Cedar Rapids). At tailback are newcomers Jordan Perry (Waukee) and Martrell Davis (Ames), along with wide receiver sophomore Don Brown (Des Moines). ECC is also looking to some of their players to play multiple rolls on the offensive side of the ball including Tariq Young (Lakeland, FL), Kardelle Phillips (Oregon, WI), Jordan Foster (Columbia, SC), Anthony Evans (Omaha, NE), Omunique Wilkerson (Nevada), Montana Marchant (Iowa Falls), and Ty Brimm (Remsen).
The Panthers open the 2018 season this Thursday, Aug. 23 on the road against Hutchinson Community College; kickoff is at 7 pm.