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South aiming to grow up quickly this fall

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With no returning starters on the line and only 4 overall, Panthers will be a work in progress

As Bill Singler puts it, there are some years when you have experienced players and can let them go, and there are others when you have to coach them up a little bit.

In five short months, his South Medford team has gone from the former to the latter after graduating 23 seniors, but that doesn’t mean expectations have changed for the Panthers.

After going 4-1 through the spring campaign, the Panthers return enough headline players, as well as young talent and faith in Singler, to earn them the No. 2 spot in the preseason Southwest Conference coaches poll.

“We’re just taking it one day at a time right now,” said Singler, entering his 24th season at South. “Our team has changed a little bit as far as experience so we’ve got some work to do.”

The Panthers return only four offensive starters, and none on the defensive side of the ball, so there will be a true transition being made this fall for most of the cast, either up from the JV or freshman levels.

With a limited break-in period — South opens at McNary and also has back-to-back games against Lake Oswego and Lakeridge before opening SWC play at Sheldon — the onus will be on the Panthers to mature in short order.

“We’ve never backed down from scheduling in our program at any time,” said Singler. “If these kids need to grow up, they’re going to get their nose wet awfully early and they better see what it’s like.”

One player thrust into the fire in the spring was quarterback Deacon Edgar, who responded to the challenge as a sophomore and wound up completing 54 of 100 passes for 658 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions.

Edgar also ran for three TDs, including two in the final two minutes against North Medford to steal a 35-34 victory in the Panthers’ spring finale.

“There’s no question he was a heckuva lot better quarterback from Game 1 to Game 5,” said Singler of the 5-foot-11, 175-pounder.

With that added experience under his belt, Edgar enters his junior year in a much different mode.

“He just looks more confident and seems more confident and understands the offense better,” said Singler. “I think his frame of mind about himself is more positive and I think he believes in himself more now than he did last year at this time, obviously. And I think the kids certainly respect him in how the season played out and how he played. He definitely has the team’s respect.”

As such, Edgar expects to shoulder a little more responsibility this time around.

“I think the more you get to know a kid as a coach, especially at the quarterback position, the more rope you’re willing to give him,” said Singler. “I think you’ll see him getting a little bit more rope than he had last year.”

“We’ve got to utilize his ability as a runner a little bit more than we did last year,” added the coach, “because he definitely can run the ball a little bit. He has a knack for getting some yards with his legs.”

The biggest challenge for the Panthers will be that they graduated nine senior linemen and will be relatively young up front this season, with senior Jackson Robertson (6-3, 200) expected to anchor the group on both sides of the ball.

“With our inexperience up front,” said Singler, “we’re probably going to have to lean on the pass a little more this year than obviously we did last year when we had a big line and could push some people backwards. Right now we’re not strong enough yet up front, because most of the kids are sophomores and they haven’t been in the weight room long enough.”

Hopefully making things easier will be the return of versatile senior running backs Carson Joe, a first-team all-SOC pick in the spring, and Brycen Guches, a second-teamer.

At 5-10, 200 pounds, Joe has the power to run through the tackles (57 carries, 378 yards, six TDs in the spring) and is also adept at blocking and catching the ball out of the backfield.

The shifty Guches (5-7, 175) provides a breakaway threat after averaging 6 yards per carry in the spring and gives South another set of trusty hands in four-receiver schemes (10 catches, 55 yards).

The area Singler finds the most potential for breakout performance is in the receiver position, where senior Colton Samis (5-11, 165) returns as a starter and is complemented by a host of playmakers whose average height is 6-2 in senior Asher Johnson and juniors Andrew Walker, Josh Phillips and Ty Henry.

“I’m excited for our receiver corps,” said Singler. “I think our skill positions at the varsity level, we’re somewhat experienced but we do have some talent and size and speed, which is nice.”

Samis expects to be more involved in a variety of ways this fall as South’s Swiss Army knife, so to speak, as a capable receiver and runner.

Walker bumped up to the varsity level as a mainstay midway through the spring and the speedy 6-1, 175-pounder made a big impact in wins over Grants Pass and North Medford. Walker, whose 11.08 seconds in the 100 meters made him one of the state track leaders as a sophomore, finished as the Panthers’ second-leading receiver with 121 yards and two TDs on six catches.

Johnson, Phillips and Henry were leading receivers on the JV team who offer big targets for Edgar. Phillips, especially, has the potential for a breakout year and showed his athleticism in shifting from receiver to quarterback due to an injury that sidelined Henry Williams for most of the spring.

Johnson (6-3, 185) is a hurdler in track with good speed and athleticism that allowed him to make an impact when he saw varsity time at safety last year. He, Samis and Guches expect to anchor the secondary for South.

Joe headlines an athletic linebacker corps that expects to include juniors Dylan Espinosa (6-1, 205), Isaack Valdez (6-0, 160) and Diego Rios (5-9, 175) and seniors Khedive Robinson (5-11, 175) and Tabor Wheeler (5-9, 170).

With lower program numbers, South is in the low 50s, Singler said he expects to have more players going both ways this year but the continued development of younger players could help offset that wear and tear throughout the season.

PANTHERS

HEAD COACH

Bill Singler (24th year, 142-93)

GENERAL INFORMATION

ASSISTANTS: Jason Bauer (assistant head coach/running backs/defensive line), Chris Parnell (defensive coordinator/secondary), Damian Jackson (offensive line), Tony Akpan (defensive linemen), Jack Singler (JV head coach/quarterbacks), Matt Boudreaux (receivers), Mike Tejada (linebackers), Sean Johnston (freshman head coach), Dave Alonzo (freshman), Mike Johnston (freshman), Logan Emonds (freshman).

2020 OVERALL RECORD: 4-1.

PREDICTED FINISH THIS YEAR: Second.

2019 RESULTS

South Medford Opponents

40 Centennial 13

16 Canby 13

41 Liberty 53

21 McMinnville 7

31 McNary 9

34 Roseburg 6

14 Sheldon 34

19 Grants Pass 14

21 North Medford 52

State Playoffs

0 Newberg 28

2020 RESULTS

South Medford Opponents

6 Crater 9

28 Roseburg 14

34 Eagle Point 7

56 Grants Pass 55 (3OT)

35 North Medford 34

RETURNING STARTERS

OFFENSE (4): Running back Carson Joe (5-10, 200, sr.), running back Brycen Guches (5-7, 175, sr.), receiver/punter Colton Samis (5-11, 165, sr.), quarterback Deacon Edgar (5-11, 175, jr.).

DEFENSE (0): No returning starters.

OTHER NOTABLES

Tight end/safety Asher Johnson (6-3, 185, sr.), lineman Jackson Robertson (6-3, 200, sr.), receiver/defensive back Andrew Walker (6-1, 175, jr.), receiver/defensive back Josh Phillips (6-1, 165, jr.), running back/linebacker Dylan Espinosa (6-1, 205, jr.), receiver/defensive back Ty Henry (6-2, 145, jr.), quarterback/defensive back Henry Williams (6-1, 185, jr.), running back/linebacker Tabor Wheeler (5-9, 170, sr.), receiver/linebacker Isaack Valdez (6-0, 160, jr.), receiver/defensive back Hayden Powell (5-8, 135, sr.), lineman Hunter Hernandez-Cline (5-11, 200, jr.), lineman Elijah Qualls (5-11, 215, jr.), lineman Anthony DelPizzo (5-10, 245, so.), lineman Diego Luna (5-10, 230, so.), lineman Bowen Johnson (6-1, 265, so.), lineman Spencer King (6-3, 200, jr.), lineman/linebacker Khedive Robinson (5-11, 175, sr.), lineman/linebacker Diego Rios (5-9, 175, jr.), lineman Li Moala (5-9, 210, so.), lineman Makani Manuwai (5-11, 230, so.).

2021 SCHEDULE

Sept. 3 at McNary, 7 p.m.

Sept. 10 BEND, 7 p.m.

Sept. 17 at Lake Oswego, 7 p.m.

Sept. 24 LAKERIDGE, 7 p.m.

Oct. 1 at Sheldon, 7 p.m.

Oct. 8 GRANTS PASS, 7 p.m.

Oct. 15 ROSEBURG, 7 p.m.

Oct. 22 at Westview, 7 p.m.

Oct. 29 at North Medford, 7 p.m.

Have a story idea? Reach sports editor Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

South Medford QB Deacon Edgar was the Panthers’ starter under center as a sophomore this past spring. Photo by Larry Stauth Jr. / for the Mail Tribune
South Medford senior Carson Joe, left, rushed for 378 yards and six touchdowns during his junior season in the spring. Photo by Larry Stauth Jr. / for the Mail Tribune
South Medford junior Andrew Walker expects to lead a skilled receiver corps this fall. Photo by Larry Stauth Jr. / for the Mail Tribune
Bill Singler, South Medford head coachAndy Atkinson / Mail Tribune