Team: Pond Creek-Hunter Panthers
Class C, District C-1
Last year: 11-2
Head coach: David Kerr
21st season, 176-66
Pond Creek-Hunter head coach David Kerr is looking for someone to grasp the reins of the Panthers’ offense.
After two seasons of Kerr’s son, Tyler, under center, the 2018 First Team All-Northwest Oklahoma selection has since graduated, leaving a major role that needs to be filled.
“That’s one of the positions that’s obviously very important,” Kerr said.
The battle for starting quarterback is between senior Jake Ronck and sophomore Aaron Kerr, who is also a son of Coach Kerr.
The pair began their competition for the spot in May during the start of spring practice and extended it through summer camps and passing leagues.
As the final-decision-maker, Kerr, now in his 21st season at Pond Creek-Hunter, didn’t feel either individual fully stepped up to the challenge, so he decided the race will continue into the start of fall practice.
Kerr said he is looking for “someone to show that they’re the leader of (the) offense and take the reins out there. Be the guy that’s gonna take command of the huddle. Being able to count on them when it comes to crucial game situations.”
Regardless of which contender wins the fight, they’ll have plenty of experienced teammates around them. Meaning whoever does win the job, won’t necessarily have to do a whole lot early on in the 2019-20 campaign.
Much of the workload will be put on the shoulders of senior running back Noah Miller, who rushed for 1,490 yards and 25 touchdowns on 141 carries last season. He added another 319 yards and two touchdowns on 22 receptions.
“I don’t think I’m giving any secrets to any teams that Noah (Miller) will be the focal point of our offense,” Kerr said of the 205-pound back.
Kerr added the already talented ball carrier has improved his speed and strength over the summer, potentially making him even more of a hassle for opposing defenses.
In addition to Miller’s return, the Panthers bring back a large chunk of their receiver production from last season. Roughly 80 percent of both receptions and yards.
Tight ends Fisher Muegge, a senior, and John Theophilus, a junior, combined for nearly 1,000 yards receiving and 12 touchdown receptions last season.
On the defensive side, Kerr expects his front five to be a solid core. Pond Creek-Hunter returns four of its top five tacklers from last year, including Miller, a linebacker, who led the Panthers with 118 total tackles.
Senior defensive lineman Xavier Smith, outside linebacker Muegge and linebacker Theophilus are among the other top players on the Pond Creek-Hunter defense.
“It’s not like those quarterbacks are going to have to go win games for us early on,” Kerr said given the amount of overall talent on the team. “If they can just manage the game and take care of the ball, I think we can be successful.”
The Panthers have had no shortage of achievements in recent years. In the past three seasons, Pond Creek-Hunter posted a combined record of 37-4 with two Class C State runner-up finishes and a trip to the semifinals last season.
This year’s group of nine seniors has a chance to break the school record for total wins by a single class.
The current record is 50 wins, set by the Class of 1988.
“When you sit back and look at it as a whole, we’ve been very successful and very fortunate to be in the position we were in,” Kerr said of his most recent teams.
The only thing standing in the way of even more accomplishments is Tipton, the three-time defending Class C state champion.
The Tigers were responsible for the Panthers’ final loss each of the past three years. Pond Creek-Hunter went 0-3 against Tipton, but 37-1 against all other opponents. The one other loss was to Buffalo, 38-7, in Week 7 last season.
“It hurts,” Kerr said of the three gut-wrenching losses to Tipton. “It kind of fuels the fire that makes you want to get back to that point and do something about it.”
Pond Creek-Hunter has a home-heavy schedule this season. Eight of its 10 regular season contests are set to be played at the $2 million athletic complex that was completed last October.
The Panthers were forced to play all but one game — against Tyrone on Oct. 26 — on the road last year. They played Buffalo at Lamont in a neutral site contest. To offset the odd scenario, Kerr said Pond Creek-Hunter’s opponents agreed to simply switch the home and away locations from last year.
Kerr understands another deep playoff run won’t be easy and knows there’s a lot of work still to be done, — including naming a starting quarterback — but he hopes the senior class realizes this is their final chance a reaching the final goal: a Class C State title.
“There’s a lot of things out there in front of those kids,” Kerr said. “Our expectations are always high. Hopefully those guys can live up to it.”