Panthers Looking For Playoff Return in 2016

By Chris Boothe

Messenger Sports

OAKWOOD – A turnover rate of just two players is good no matter who you are. For the 1A (Formerly 6-man) Oakwood Panthers, it is looking to be a huge boost for a team that went 5-6 a year ago, falling to Calvert in the opening round of the playoffs. Now, the Panthers return 12 of 14 players, including their entire offensive line, running backs, and all but one wide receiver.

Now, this is 6-Man football, where there are only six players on the field at a time, but experience like that is tough to find anywhere across the state of Texas. It is that experience, along with a schedule that will challenge the young Panthers, that puts the Panthers not only as a favorite to reach the playoffs, but a team that could be dangerous come playoff time.

The biggest boost for the Panthers outside of experience, is not only the talent, but the district recognized talent. Oakwood returns seven 1st Team All-District honorees (3 Offensive/4 Defensive), and the 15-1A-DII Newcomer of the Year. It is that kind of talent that should parlay into a successful season for the Panthers, who have had failed to finish with a record over .500 since 2013 when the Panthers went 7-5.

The Panthers will be led by reigning Newcomer of the Year and incoming senior Brandon Veneble. The versatile lineman wrecked havoc on opposing offenses throughout the year, doing enough to earn Newcomer honors. Now, with a year under his belt, Veneble looks to help take the team to the next level and lift the Panthers deep into the playoffs.

Veneble, ,also a 1st Team All-District defensive lineman, will anchor a defense that will play a big role in the Panthers success this year. The Panthers return four 1st Team All-District players and one 2nd Team All-District performer, meaning Oakwood returns five out of six starters, all of which were All-District honorees.

Veneble will have plenty of help on the defensive line with nose guard Daniel Roberts (Senior), helping control the line of scrimmage. While those two set the table, there will be plenty of speed and athleticism behind them. 1st Team All-District linebacker and cornerback, Ethan Edgemon and Chris Newsome respectively, will spearhead that group. Add in 2nd Team All-District linebacker Ja’Koyious “Tuddy” Jones, and there are the makings of a very salty defense.

Now, like most smaller schools, in 1A there are plenty of two-way players. Oakwood is not immune as many of those same players will be key offensively. Edgemon and Newsome were both 1st Team All-District performers offensively, with Edgemon taking honors as a running back, and Newsome as a wide receiver. They will also get help from senior tight end Austin Shurptrine, who joined the duo on the 1st Team.

The offense will be controlled by a youngster in the backfield. Junior Tristan Byndom got enough snaps to earn 2nd Team All-District honors as a sophomore, now the young singnal caller takes over for a highly respected David Allen, who set several passing records at Oakwood, and graduated after earning Offensive MVP honors. While they are big shoes to fill, the coaching staff in Oakwood feel confident about the skill set Byndom brings to the table.

There is plenty of change to the Panthers schedule for the upcoming season, as they feature just two common opponents from non-district play. Once again, the Panthers will face Coolidge and Chester early in non-district, both games that Oakwood was on the wrong end of a year ago. New to the schedule are teams like Zephyr, Covington, Methodist Children’s Home, Abbott, and Jonesboro. All are solid programs that will push the Panthers through non-district play.

There wasn’t much change in district play, as the Panthers lost Fannindel, but kept reigning district champion Mt. Calm and Trinidad. Oakwood picked up Milford, a non-district opponent from a year ago, to keep a four-team district. Of those returning teams, the Panthers were 2-1 against those teams, beating Trinidad 58-12 and Milford 54-44, and falling to Mt. Calm 89-67.

Overall, the Panthers seem poised for a big year. With a large contingent of returning starters (4/5), Oakwood should be able to piece together a very successful run. The schedule should have its challenges, but just enough to prepare Oakwood for a strong district run and deep playoff run. Prediction: 8-2