Jarrett Troxler held a Saturday practice this preseason. It was something the man he replaced at Lakeside, Jody Grooms, told him was not a good idea.
The Panthers' new head coach knew taking a few precious hours of a Saturday away was asking a lot. Still, it was something he thought he needed to do.
"I wanted to see how they would respond," Troxler said.
The result was extraordinary, he said. The following Monday, the Panthers had hands-down their best practice under Troxler. Almost every player was going at full effort, and it was the moment Troxler believes the team committed to being a really good squad.
But effort doesn't equate to victories, and Lakeside must replace a number of key defenders from a defense that produced six shutouts last season.
Kendal Parker might be the key to re-establishing the Panthers' dominance on defense.
"Having Kendal back is huge," Troxler said. "He's our best defensive player. He's our leader over there."
Parker will be forced to step up because Lakeside will have seven to nine new starters on defense.
Jacob Lane will lead the secondary at safety. The rest of the secondary has yet to be set, Troxler said, though several juniors are vying for starting spots.
Jon Zumbro, Sam Brown and Tony Perella will anchor the defensive line.
Just like the defense, the offense is not completely set. The primary question remaining is whether senior Ben Wilson or junior Mark Weidenaar will start at quarterback. Both will be on the field regardless of the decision.
"It's going to be a tough decision because they're both real competitive and both good kids," Troxler said. "They both want to be the starting quarterback at Lakeside.
"They'll both be in the game either way. They won't come off the field, neither one of them."
Whoever starts under center will be throwing passes to the other. Standout senior receiver Ben Brooks will get the majority of the targets, while Tony Sigee and Heath Durand also will line up at receiver.
Troxler said he has plenty of candidates for the primary tailback role, though he's waiting for one to claim it.
"We need a running back to step up," he said. "It's hard to replace a guy like Ricky McMurtrey."
The offensive line is a secure spot for the Panthers, highlighted by the play of left tackle John Hardy. Jacob Wright lines up next to him, with Sean Gaddy at center and Jamal Hadley and Ben Musall on the right side.
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