Given that Independent was 0-9 in 2011 and its closest game was 29 points, winning just once last year would have been a marked improvement.
But something clicked for the Panthers. Not only did they win one game, they won six, including four of five to close the season and the first playoff appearance since 2007.
How can that kind of turnaround be sustained? Coach Jarrod Hibler thinks it all starts with the belief that Independent belongs where it was last season.
“In my mind, our goal is to win the league, win district and make some noise in the playoffs,” Hibler said. “My guess is most other people think it would be a good season to win just a few games, but the kids and I don’t feel that way. We want to take care of business again.”
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For that to happen, the Panthers will have to grow up fast. Gone are four linemen and several key skill players.
Hibler, though, doesn’t expect to change much to his system because of the versatility of his team.
“Not only are we versatile, but we are athletic, too,” Hibler said. “We have backs that can play receiver or corners that can play tight end. Because of that, we can throw in some special packages on both offense and defense to utilize their strengths.”
The backfield will be of particular strength, with three running backs —Karson Rowe, Carter McCausland and Chad Eikleberry — capable of handling a heavy workload.
“These guys think it’s their time,” Hibler said. “We’re going to do the same things, because we are confident that these kids will step up and make plays. These kids are good players.”
Coach: Jarrod Hibler, third season, 9-19
League: Central Plains
Last season: 6-4, lost in first round of 3A playoffs
Last five seasons: 13-34
Projected 2013 playoff team? Yes
Top skill players
|Sept. 6||at Medicine Lodge|
|Sept. 20||at Conway Springs|
|Oct. 4||at Chaparral|
|Oct. 11||Belle Plaine|
|Oct. 18||at Sedgwick|
|Nov. 1||at Bluestem|
Karson Rowe on his team
What Independent does well: “We have a lot of talent on this team. We’re young, but talented. We have good speed in our skills positions and a really big offensive line. We just need to gain some experience.”
What has to improve: “We have to get the offensive line together. I think that’s our biggest challenge. We lost four starters from last year, so the new guys are going to have to come together quickly.”