Head Coach: John Sala
Career Record: Overall 3-6; 2nd season at Ellsworth CC
2002 Record: 3-6 overall, 3-5 conference
Returning Starters: Offense: 5, Defense: 6
NJCAA Preseason Ranking: 18th
First Game: North Dakota SCS, Aug. 28 (7:00pm)
Coach Sala will again put a defense together that will be stingy against the run. Returning sophomore linebacker Erskine Jude (6-1, 225), with his 75 tackles from a year ago, will be one of the reasons and defensive tackle Adam Hughes (6-3, 235) will be the other. Hughes a 2002 All Region selection had 48 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Tanner Varner (6-0, 164) will return in the defensive secondary. In 2002, Varner had 48 tackles and 2 interceptions.
With a strong core defensive unit returning it should take some pressure off the offense that averaged a league low 206 yards per game. Tailback Mickell Harrell (5-8, 193) will carry the load on offense. Harrell carried the ball 65 times for 304 yards in 2002. Left tackle Jeremy Hoffpavir (6-2, 270) and right guard Bryan Olson (6-3, 270) will make the road to the end zone a little easier for Harrell. Incoming freshman Josh Firstley (6-0, 205) will battle with Mickell Harrell for playing time. Firstley was a big part of Centennial (GA) High School's 10-1 record in the 2002 season. Quarterback Tom Langhurst and wide receiver Chad Harris will both look to contribute right away.
If the Panthers make it to the bowl game this year it will be well deserved. It will take no time for Coach Sala to figure out how good his team is when they travel to defending conference champions Iowa Central on September 13 then turn around and make the trip to Joliet Junior College (IL) on September 20. Joliet JC is riding a 14-game win streak and is the defending NJCAA National Champs.