Lenoir City Panthers

Fall practice in many ways is like spring training in baseball…optimism abounds! The excitement and enthusiasm at Lenoir City High School is based upon the fact that most of the starters return to a team that played very well a season ago. While the final regular season record was an uninspiring 3-7, the Panthers were a very young team. There is enough talent returning to give Lenoir City fans reason to believe they can make a run to the post season.

Nick White assumes command of the Panthers' lair after spending the first eight years of his coaching career as an assistant. His initial head coaching assignment has him excited about the season ahead for many reasons. "With so many returning starters on the field this fall," said Coach White, "we should be a competitive team this season. The kids are working hard and we are all very excited about the possibilities."

Seven players return to man the Panthers' split back veer offensive attack which relies on a strong ground game for success. Perhaps the key returnee is senior running back Kyle Lombardo (5'10" 175). A year ago in only six games Lombardo was a workhorse carrying the pigskin 117 times for 642 yards. 2002 was Lombardo's first year of high school football. He is a quality athlete starring on the Lenoir City basketball team as well. Lombardo should crack the 1000 yard barrier this season. His backfield mate will be fellow senior Sonny Downs (5'9" 180). Two sophomores will also see action at running back. Rommel Hightower (5'7" 145) is an exciting newcomer along with Jesse Johnson (5'8" 150). Johnson should also handle the kicking duties for Lenoir City.

The Panthers must find a new quarterback to lead the offense. Junior Boyd Moats (5'10" 160) got valuable experience last season completing one of five passes for 12 yards and an interception. Moats is now the man at QB and will benefit from the limited time under center from 2002. Sophomore Chris Kelso (5'11" 155) will push Moats for playing time as the Panther signal caller. They must cut back on costly turnovers this year.

Moats and Kelso will benefit by two key returnees in the passing game. Wide receiver Blake Norman (6'0" 175) is back looking to improve on his 8 catch 138 yard reception totals during his senior season. Norman averaged 17.3 yards per catch showing he has big play potential. Fellow senior Barry Blanton (6'1" 200) is back at tight end. Blanton caught 5 balls for 20 yards last year and should see plenty more opportunities this season. Senior Cory Summey (5'9" 150) is another top wide receiver candidate.

Lenoir City's offensive line should be solid as four of the five starters are seniors. The center should be John Langefeld (5'10" 240) while the guards should be Jamie Petty (5'9" 245) and Josh Torbeville (5'10 240). The tackles will in all likelihood be Matt Lawson (6'1" 280) and the only junior of the big fellas Logan Harrison (5'11" 260). Sophomore Jacob Melton (6'0" 235) will supply key depth along the offensive line.

The defense is bolstered by the return of eight starters including two stalwart linebackers. Blanton will man one spot on the outside where he recorded 49 tackles 5 for losses and 2 sacks last season. Blanton is the top returning hitman. Senior Andrew Chadwick (5'11" 235) will anchor one of the linebacker spots inside. Chadwick ripped into 47 ball carriers including five sacks. Junior Eric Washburn (6'1" 195) should be the other inside backer while another junior, Sam Bivens (5'10" 210) will play outside.

Lenoir City's defensive line are all juniors. Devin Dutton (6'0" 205) and Harrison should be the ends while Michael Wilson (5'10" 250) and Lawson should anchor the Panthers' 4-4 defensive alignment at tackle. Melton will again be a key sub if anyone needs a breather along the defensive line.

The Panthers' secondary is smallish but quick enough to cause problems for any opponent's passing attack. The corners will be juniors Catlin Helton (5'10" 155) and Mac Bowers (5'9" 145). Summey will man the all important free safety position as the last line of defense for the Panthers. Hightower, Kelso and Johnson will work for playing time in the defensive backfield.

If the offensive line comes together as a unit and the quarterbacks can work the option without turning the ball over, Lenior City has a chance to be good on offense. The Panthers' "D" has some size and headhunters at linebacker which give them a shot at playing with the best in rugged Region 2 3A. The region features regular powers Anderson County, Austin-East and defending state runner-up Fulton plus always strong Kingston.

The game every year on Lenoir City's schedule is the Loudon Redskins in the annual "Battle of the Bridge." The Panthers have won the last two meetings between these bitter rivals and looks to make it a three peat this year. 2003 could be a special one for the Lenoir City Panthers as they look to make a run at the state playoffs.

TNPrepSports.com Prediction- 6-4

Playoff Contender- Yes

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