This year’s version of the Nease Panthers defense will look differently, but the pieces still appear in place for another potential stellar season.
The Panthers are experience the departure of so many from a veteran group a year ago that captured the heart of the Nease faithful with their tenacious and attacking style.
However, one of the seniors returning this year is Sterling Grimes, who is doing his part to help the team by switching positions from weak safety to strong safety.
“There’s been a lot of competition in practice, and it feels like no one side of the ball is more dominant than the other one,” Grimes said.
One of the things he has worked on the most during the offseason in preparation for the switch was building up his strength to handle the more physical demand of the strong side.
“When you’re playing on the weak side you’re covering more shallow passes, but on the strong side, you’ve got to be ready to go everywhere,” Grimes said.
According to Grimes, defense has always been the side of the ball that seemed to suit him, even from an early age.
After playing both running back and safety his freshman year, he has been fully focused on defense ever since.
The Panthers also have a new defensive coordinator, which according to Grimes has put even more responsibility on the seniors to make sure everyone is aware of where they need to be lined up before each snap.
“The assignments are getting better every day and people are understanding where they need to be,” senior Joey Garrett said. “The young guys have some big shoes to fill, but they’re up to it.”
Grimes is not the only player having gone through a change in positions, as Garrett has made the move from edge rusher to middle linebacker.
As middle linebacker, Garrett knows a lot of the play calls on defense will run through him, but it is a challenge he has embraced with open arms.
Garrett had knee surgery last year, so he is looking forward to making his senior year a special one.
“Being out there with them, it kind of feels like being out there with last year’s team, because you’ve got a lot of the same personalities,” Grimes said. “You’ve got a Ben Bogle character in Joe Miracle and then you have a Zach Harmon character in Joey (Garrett), and you have a Creed (McClafferty) in Canon, who is actually his little brother. It’s crazy how it’s different but it really hasn’t changed.”
With that, comes the mindset of maintaining the foundation last year’s defense set and make it the standard for the Panthers on that side of the ball.
“The goal is always to win,” Garrett said. “There’s no point in going out there, if you’re going to lose.”
Senior lineman Nick Severt is expected to have a busy year, because not only is he a mainstay on the offensive line, but he has also been working with the defense throughout fall practice and is expected to contribute as a two-way player at times.
According to Severt, having played along the defensive line primarily as a freshman and sophomore before transitioning to offense, has allowed the role of a two-way player to be a smooth transition.
“Because I know both sides of the ball, it hasn’t given me too much of a challenge mentally,” Severt said.
Even though they’ve been around the program, there is a definite difference felt among the team for the players that have the title of “senior” next to their name.
“You definitely feel a lot more responsible for everybody on the team,” Garrett said.
The energy head coach Collin Drafts has echoes throughout the program and regardless of the side of the ball, even though he calls the plays on offense.
That is something Grimes has come to respect about Drafts, and he believes it is one of the main reasons why the Panthers are such a close-knit group.
“He coaches us hard and that’s what I love about him,” Grimes said. “And he also coaches everybody the exact same way. If you’re wrong, you’re going to know it, and that makes us so much better.”
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