Kendal Parker's reputation was larger than life before he ever stepped foot on Lakeside High School's practice field.
As it turned out, his reputation also was larger than he was. Rumors swirled about an incoming linebacker who stood 6-foot-4-inches tall and weighed 250 pounds.
"There was a lot of talk," Panthers coach Jody Grooms said. "When he got here, those kids looked at him and said, 'Man, he looks like us.' "
Parker, a junior linebacker who moved to Evans from Jacksonville, Fla., in time for spring practice, has been deemed a perfect fit by Grooms.
He, along with seniors Chris Hartfield and Khadi Tshishiku, have helped get the Panthers defense off to an amazing start. Lakeside's 18-0 victory over Glenn Hills was the Panthers' third consecutive shutout, the longest streak in school history. The Panthers's streak also matches the highest season shutout total in the school's history.
"If we play the way we can, we won't lose a game," Parker said.
Lakeside players had a similar feeling last year, but the comments came during the preseason and proved premature. Based on the first three games, the question seems not only if the Panthers can go undefeated, but if they will allow any points in the process.
Lakeside's defense staked its claim early, shutting out an Evans team that returned an experienced offensive unit from its Region 3-AAAA title team. At Greenbrier on Sept. 11, Lakeside forced six turnovers and scored twice on interceptions, including a 40-yard Tshishiku return.
Hartfield said last week a road game against the Spartans would be the Panthers' stiffest test. He said the memory of last season's loss to Glenn Hills, which came after the Panthers jumped out to a two-touchdown early lead, still was fresh.
The Panthers held the Spartans to 2.6 yards per play Friday, recovered four fumbles and forced two safeties.
"The biggest thing is, and I'll attribute it to the entire coaching staff, is those kids play fast," Grooms said. "They play with confidence. And I think that is the most important thing."
Tshishiku, who intercepted two Greenbrier passes the second week, said the Panthers are closer as a team than they were last season.
Before spring practice, Lakeside was faced with replacing linebacker Kyle Tudor. Parker was the guy.
"We had a big void to fill when Kyle Tudor left," Tshishiku said. "Kendal definitely stepped up to the plate."
Along with seniors Hartfield and Alan Marionneax, Parker has helped make the Panthers linebacking corps one of the team's strong points.
Hartfield said Parker's ability to play any of the linebacker spots allows himself to roam and help out covering a tight end.
Parker and Hartfield also play offense -- Parker a blocking fullback and Hartfield a running back.
Tshishiku, who has interest from Harvard and Middle Tennessee, said he is more focused on football than the recruiting process. Hartfield echoed the sentiment.
After its first 3-0 start in six seasons, the Panthers' defense has Harlem in its sights.
"We talk all the time about attitudes and not being selfish, leaving your egos at home," Grooms said. "For the most part, they seem to have it figured out."
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