High hopes fuel Wildcats’ return to football field

Sports Writer: Brent Cook

August 25, 2021

The Whitney Wildcats march back onto the field of green this Friday with a mission of re-establishing the program as a fast and furious football squad with the talent and teamwork to return to the playoffs.

Kickoff for the season-opener is set for 7:30 p.m. at Wildcat Stadium, and Head Coach Mark Byrd said he expects a full crowd as the boys in blue square off against Quinlan Ford. The game marks the first of six home games for the Wildcats, and Byrd said the home-field advantage is one of the keys to the team’s success.

“With six home games this year we are bringing in some top teams and our plate his full,” said Byrd, who is entering into his fourth season as head coach. “There is no doubt that our community support is vital to our success. Great communities create great programs.”

With playoff trips in two of his first three seasons as coach, Byrd has laid the foundation for a winning program. But following an up-and-down 3-7 season in 2020, the Wildcats look to regain the rhythm that propelled the team to its record-breaking campaign in 2019. That year, Whitney won a total of 11 games, claiming the district championship and advancing to the third-round playoffs.

Many of this year’s seniors were a part of that playoff team, and Byrd said the desire to rebound and win remains strong within this pack of Wildcats.

“We had a really great summer with our skill kids qualifying for state in 7-on-7 competition,” Byrd said. “Our offensive line kids worked really hard this summer and it has shown.”

Byrd noted that Canyon Massengale, John Dublin and Daren Van Zandt are doing a great job in the trenches, and he expects Tamarius Green to help protect the offense as well.

Leading the way for the Wildcats will be a core group of playmakers with plenty of varsity experience. Quarterback standout Garrett Peacock, who racked up more than 2,000 total yards and 12 touchdowns last year, will guide the way for a roster full of offensive firepower. Players like Jordan Newton, Kolt Byrd, Jaxon Montgomery, Orin, Green, Kyler Cryns and Dalton Wooten and Jordan Newton are all expected to move the ball and find the end zone.

Along with being the core of the 7-on-7 squad, the offensive skill players have stood out in two-a-days and scrimmages, Byrd said.

“They do a great job of making explosive plays happen while at the same time working their routes to get opening,” he said.

Newton and Wooten will also anchor a defense from the linebacker position. After an inconsistent campaign last year, Byrd said shoring up the defensive box is crucial. He expects a big improvement from the defensive secondary and noted that defensive end Cash Hooten is getter better and better by the week.

Last season’s opener against Quinlan proved to be a high-scoring affair with the Panthers edging the Wildcats 45-34. To start the season off with a win, the defense will be the key.

“Quinlan will be bringing a quality ball club and will be a tough match up for us,” Byrd said. “It was a tough game last year that could have gone either way.”

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