Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

SPORTS; Nease Seniors' Experience, New Coach Help Earn Wins

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

SPORTS; Nease Seniors' Experience, New Coach Help Earn Wins

Article excerpt

Byline: Brian Kosoy, Shorelines correspondent

With 26 seniors on the roster, Nease High School has an experienced football team this year. Despite their experience, though, the Class 3A Panthers have had a recent string of disappointing seasons. But with new head coach Craig Howard at the helm, things have changed drastically for the Panthers, who are experiencing a whole new sensation -- winning.

Going into last night's game against St. Augustine, the Panthers were 4-0, already doubling their win total from last season and putting together an opening run that has featured contributions from the entire team. The season-opening flourish speaks volumes for the contributions of Howard, who replaced Jake Kimball as the head coach this season. Howard was the head coach at Apalachicola High School last season, but he previously coached in the Jacksonville area at Bishop Kenny and Mandarin. He brings years of experience to the Panthers, who finished 2-8 last season.

On offense, the Panthers benefit from the addition of quarterback Tim Tebow, who transferred from Trinity Christian, where he played defensive back on its state championship team last season. Only a sophomore, Tebow has a strong arm and a competitive drive and has emerged as one of the area's top passers. He replaces senior Doug Barber, who will back him up but will primarily play defensive end and tight end.

"[Tebow] is going to play three years and probably be a highly recruited quarterback when he's done," Howard said. "He has a lot of heart and desire."

Tebow has the luxury of an explosive corps of receivers, headlined by his favorite target, senior Will Oakley. Oakley has established himself as one of the area's top receivers, already amassing nearly 400 receiving yards this season, including four touchdowns.

Oakley is joined at receiver by fellow seniors Jon Pettry, Patrick Donnell and Adam Hedrick, a transfer from Texas who also returns kicks and scored five touchdowns in the first three games. Junior Devin Swanson rounds out the receiving squad, which is the strong point of the Panthers' offensive attack. The Panthers usually use a four- or five-receiver formation on offense.

Alone in the backfield is senior fullback Taylor Murray, who was named all-district last season. Murray gave an outstanding performance last week, when he ran for three fourth-quarter touchdowns against University Christian.

The Nease offensive line is developing but is a work in progress. The line has a balance of young and old players and is anchored by senior offensive lineman Scott Page, senior center Marc Oehler and junior offensive tackle Matthew Koch.

The Panther defense has also made some dazzling plays this season. After the first three games, they led the area with 10 interceptions, six of which they returned for touchdowns. …

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