Nearly a week into fall camp the Great Bend High School football team will hold the first of two intrasquad scrimmages Saturday morning at 10 a.m. at Memorial Stadium. Great Bend will hold their final preseason scrimmage next Friday, August 28 at 7 p.m. under the lights. Nearly 60 individuals makeup second year head coach Tony Crough’s roster which does not include freshmen.
The Panthers will use the two scrimmages as a tune up in preparation for the September 4 opener at home against Leavenworth. The Panthers will enter that contest with a chip to bear following a 19-0 shutout loss to the Pioneers to begin the 2014 campaign. Great Bend would go on to finish the season with a 3-6 record with wins against Wichita North (36-7), WAC foe Liberal (28-14) and a 27-0 blanking of Newton.
“We feel really good as a coaching staff about what we’re getting out of the kids right now,” coach Crough said. “The effort has been great and we’ve had high enthusiasm but more than anything we’ve been really pleased with the tempo.”
Crough says the practices are geared toward a minimal amount of down time.
“They’re moving around fast and getting a lot done so there’s very little wasted reps right now.”
Another positive for the program is the number of prospects, over 100 according to Crough, turning out for fall camp. “We’ve been very pleased with the turnout,” the coach said. “Our highest count has 106 kids in grades nine through twelve showing up for preseason workouts.”
The million dollar issue for many teams this time of the year is the question of quarterback but coach Crough has settled the matter in the form of 5-11, 190 lb. junior Jacob Murray. Murray saw limited action at quarterback as a sophomore and posted 15 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown in a quarterback/running back combo.
“We’re excited where Jacob is at right now,” said Crough. “We like his progression. He’s still learning a lot of the nuances of being a quarterback but he is looking more and more like a play maker right now. He has the potential of getting a lot of attention around the state this season.”
Murray will have an array of targets to choose from for the passing game including junior wide outs Bryce Lytle and Brayden Smith. Lytle posted 25 receptions for 399 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore.
“Bryce is just electrifying in getting down field,” said Crough. “He’s just so fast and agile and has excellent hands. Brayden will prove to be very reliable with his height and ability to get open quickly especially in the red zone.”
Senior center Alex Deist will lead the offensive front heading into the 2015 run. “Alex has been such a tremendous leader not just for our offensive line but for the team in general,” Crough said. “He loves to play with a chip on his shoulder and that tends to spread to our other linemen in a positive way.”
The Panthers are making a big shift in personnel this season as Thomas Bobbitt will transfer from the running back position over to a starting spot in the defensive secondary. Bobbitt averaged 5.7 yards per carry and 75.7 yards per contest in 2014 and tallied 681 yards on the ground. Junior Cal Marshall will step in as the starting running back for Great Bend after seeing action on the JV squad for most of the season in 2014.
On the subject of defense Crough will look to a pair of seniors to join Bobbitt in the backfield with Jose Batres and Quinton Elliot rounding out the trio. Batres recorded 54 tackles during his junior campaign while Elliot added 43 including 23 solos for the Great Bend defense.
“Both those guys have looked really good this week,” Crough said. “We expect both of them to have a really big year. Jose can shift easily between linebacker and safety and Quinton has been really solid for us as a cover player. We also have some really solid folks to strengthen our linebacker corps with Sam (Witte), Payton (Mauler) and Jensen (Randall). That whole unit is just going to be pretty tough to work against for opposing offenses,” he said.
Looking to Saturday’s scrimmage Crough says the Panthers will zero in on repetition and execution while minimizing the risk of injuries.
“As a team our primary focus is getting in quality reps and getting as good a look as we can without getting guys injured,” said Crough. “We try to be a little more cautious especially after Jayce (Brack) got hurt last year in the first scrimmage then was done for the year after the second game. So we’re going to play it smart and try to keep our players as healthy as possible because we don’t have a lot of depth.”
Crough added that this weekend’s scrimmage will also offer an opportunity for individual players to showcase their strengths and abilities.
“We’re looking for guys to go out there and make plays. We’re hoping for some pleasant surprises in that some guys who might be on the lower end of the depth chart to work their way up.”
Special teams is another avenue Crough and the rest of the coaching staff have examined during the first week of camp. “We’ve introduced all our special teams this week and basically just tried to cover all of the intricacies involved with those,” said Crough. “That will be another aspect that we’ll cover during the scrimmage and should be able to go over in greater detail next week.”
Crough summed up the segue from the offseason to fall camp as positive.
“It’s been a pretty smooth transition,” said Crough “We’re implementing some new things offensively while keeping the defense pretty much the same as last year. It’s always hard to gauge the team with total accuracy during this juncture especially when we have three weeks of preparation before the start of the season.”
Admission to Saturday’s scrimmage is free of charge and open to the public.