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Neathery: Benton will be 'ready to play this year': with experienced O-line, Panthers are looking to run more.

Coach Scott Neathery is ready for a new era of Benton football. It's an era that includes some much-needed continuity.

Neathery, now in his second year as the Panthers' head coach, sees a sense of stability and pride motivating players. Instead of focusing attention on adjusting to new offensive and defensive schemes, Neathery says his team now has time to perfect plays.

"We aren't changing anything this year on either side of the ball," Neathery said. "We will be polishing up and scrimmaging a lot more this offseason than we did last year."

Neathery acknowledges the difficulty in playing for different coaches with different systems, a problem he's relieved to not have this season. He was the Panthers' third coach in three years.

"This is the first time in four years we've had the same schemes. It will show when our kids get on the field," Neathery said.

A more experienced group of leaders might put the Panthers back in the running for a conference championship and a victory against rival Bryant in the Salt Bowl.

"We'll be ready to play this year," Neathery said.

A less-than-explosive running game forced the Panthers to throw the ball more than they desired to in 2010. This year Benton is counting on a more balanced, tougher approach.

"We are looking like we can run the ball this season," Neathery said. "Last year we didn't have an experienced offensive line or the speed we needed at running back, two things we fortunately have now."

STADIUM: Panther Stadium

HEAD COACH: Scott Neathery

OFFENSE: Multiple

DEFENSE: Multiple

RETURNING STARTERS: 16

RETURNING LETTERMAN: 30

2010 RECORD: 0-10*

*The Panther's on-field record for the 2010 season was 3-8. The Arkansas Activities Association ruled that the Panthers wins were forfeited because they had an ineligible player on the roster.
KEY RETURMEES

Wallace Foote Jr. RB 5-9 175

Brooks Balisterrie Sr. WR 5-11 165

Darren Warfod Sr. DL 6-0 230

Greg Pryor Sr. DB 5-11 180

Celeb Davis Sr. DB 5-11 165

Jacob Pringle Sr. LB 5-8 170


OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Zach Johnson, Sr., OL, 6-5, 285; Carson Holloway, Jr., LB, 5-11, 230; Collin Simmons, Jr., DB, 5-9, 170.

NEWCOMERS TO WATCH: Ryan Rodriguez, So., DB, 5-7, 150; Tarek Beaugard, So., QB, 5-7, 150; Martavius Avery, So., DL/LB, 5-11, 220.

SALT BOWL REDEMPTION: Benton dominated the Saline County rivalry with Bryant before the 1999 season, winning nine of 10 matchups between 1990 and '99. Between 2000 and 2010, however, Benton won only two of 10 games. Neathery remembers the time when Bryant was expected to fall each year to the Panthers, a time he wants to bring back. "We have to get back to the way Benton played football in 2004 through 2006," Neathery said. "Beating Bryant used to be something Benton expected. We want that back."

WHY THEY'LL WIN: The Panthers have more experience and trust in the coaching staff and in each other than the past four years combined. If they can find a sense of unity and pride early on, they'll stick together and win games that otherwise would be losses. This year for the Panthers, it's all about pride.

WHY THEY WON'T: Although Neathery is in his second year as head coach, the focus and stability needed to nurture a troubled program back to winning may not fully be there. Buying into the system is a must or the effort and drive will dissipate early in the season. The Panthers also lack the kind of size found in 6A-South.

YOUNG TALENT

The Panthers show more promise each year with young talent like sophomore quarterback Tarek Beaugard and sophomore defensive lineman/linebacker Martavius Avery rising quickly in the depth chart. Panthers coaches are zeroing in on fundamentals with the younger players and allowing the more experienced players room to grow on their own. "We are working a lot on the basics," Scott Neathery said. "In our scrimmages, we are paying extra close attention to clean, effective blocking and tackling."

* Coach Scott Neathery realizes the difficulty in matching up against Bryant as a rebuilding program but looks forward to seeing his players compete this year. A surplus of reliable and fast skill players with game experience should help the Panthers' chances at regaining Saline County bragging rights. "We had a very young team last year," Neathery said. "This year we are still a little young, but our skill and numbers are up. If these guys stay together they will continue to get better."
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Title Annotation:Benton PANTHERS
Author:Elmore, Cody
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jul 11, 2011
Words:747
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