O’Fallon High head football coach Brandon Joggerst, beginning his 10th season at the helm of the Panther program, is not looking for his charges to stumble out of the gate as they did in 2015.
Saddled with four consecutive losses to begin their campaign, the OTHS gridders did an abrupt about face, winning five of their last six games to qualify for the IHSA state playoffs.
With many starters returning this fall, Joggerst believes his current squad has the experience, depth and skill to avoid digging themselves into a hole and scrambling to finish with a bang.
“We are excited to start the 2016 campaign,” Joggerst said.
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“We feel that we have had a very good off-season, and the players were dedicated and worked hard during the summer, preparing for what we anticipate being a productive fall. We bring back some key components from our play-off team last year. We have good experience on the offensive line and some veteran sill people return. We have high expectations for this group and expect them to compete at a high level.”
The OTHS schedule does not give O’Fallon an easy route to on-field success as they open 2016 with non-conference games against perennial state caliber teams.
The Panthers will kick-off their season this Saturday with a 1 p.m. game at Hazelwood Central.
Their home opener will take place the next Friday, Sept. 2, when they host Normal West. Southwestern Conference action will start the following Friday, Sept. 9, when the OTHS gridders host Belleville West.
“The Southwestern Conference will once again have several talented teams which will make every game a battle,” Joggerst said.
“Edwardsville and East St. Louis return a lot of players from last year and should be the teams to beat in league play.”
In order to put games in the win column, the Panthers will rely on the running talent of senior Mason Hewitt and the more experienced arm of Christian Perez. Perez, a junior, will begin his second season as the O’Fallon signal caller. After learning his lessons in the school of hard knocks as a sophomore starter last year, Perez is ready to blossom according to Joggerst.
“Perez has a lot of ability and now the varsity experience necessary to lead our offense,” Joggerst explained. “He has good physical tools and a solid group of receivers to work with, giving us a potentially potent aerial attack.”
Perez will be tossing the pigskin to a trio of returning wide receivers, all of whom possess excellent speed and quickness. The group includes seniors Darryl Cobb and Deion Norfleet as well as junior veteran Ronald Anthony. Tight end Jarvus Smith will complete O’Fallon’s arsenal of receivers.
Although the fleet of speedy receivers will give opposing defenses plenty to worry about, the Panthers will also present problems with a strong ground game centered around senior running back Mason Hewitt. With the departure of outstanding running back Kentrail Moran, who signed to continue his football career at New Mexico State, Hewitt takes over as O’Fallon’s key to success on the ground. Augmenting Moran’s speed, Hewitt bulldozed his way to a 5.8 average in 45 carries last fall, and Joggerst feels confident that his big running back will make an even bigger impact this year.
“Hewitt is a big, physical runner with great skill and determination,” said Joggerst. “He reads defenses very well and is tough to bring down once he breaks the line of scrimmage.
“I have been playing with the same group of offensive linemen for about 10 years, so I am confident that we will be able to move the ball offensively.”
The offensive linemen responsible for opening the holes for Hewiit include 3-year varsity starter Malik Giddens, returning starting guard Brooks Dalton, junior center Robert Hayes, and off guard Ryan Sedlacek. Senior Deandre Crawley will complete the group, filling one of the tackle positions. Sophomore Braden Johnson also figures to see action at one of the line positions.
The graduation of record-setter Tucker McCann leaves another open spot for O’Fallon in the kicking game. Currently, a trio of booters are vying for McCann’s vacated spot. The threesome includes Brooks Hackney, Noah Tennlado and Kevin Jolani.
With enough firepower to make the Panthers a potential force offensively, O’Fallon will also put a veteran group of athletes on the field on the defensive side of the ball. Senior linemen Ryan Muirfield and Brian Ahle will anchor the OTHS front line along with Alvin Harris, a part-time starter in 2015. Zane Roe returns as the defensive signal-caller for the Panthers. Roe finished last season with 38 tackles and two sacks. Junior Deven Monahan will flank Roe at the other inside linebacker position. Junior Richard Cosey and senior Patrick Berry will fill the outside linebacker spots. One of O’Fallon’s top defenders last year with 42 tackles, Mason Hewitt will pull some double duty to enhance O’Fallon’s defensive effort.
The O’Fallon secondary will include wide receivers Cobb and Norfleet at the cornerback positions. The safety positions are expected to be filled by Herm Rich, Montrail Clay and Robert Gonzalez.
“We’re hoping for a better start to the season this year with a more experienced group of players who possess excellent physical skills,” Joggerst said. “Despite the difficult challenges early in our schedule, we expect this group of kids to perform at a high level and meet each challenge as we move forward through the 2016 schedule.”