By Jason Lawrence
Special to The Citizen
With a championship pedigree that was fostered in Platte County, new North Platte head coach Reis Wright takes over the Panthers football program with the expectation of competing every Friday night.
Wright inherits a team coming off back-to-back 2-8 seasons under former coach Josh Rodriguez, who went 9-23 in his three years at the helm, but the former Cass Midway and Carrolton coach is no stranger to the KCI Conference, having graduated from Platte County High School in 2001.
“This is my first year coaching in the conference, but not my first time following this conference,” Wright said. “I have been following since 1998 and every year it is a tough conference. For our level of football, I would be hard pressed to believe there is a tougher conference for (Class 1) football in general.”
Gone from the squad that beat Mid-Buchanan and rival West Platte — to hold onto the Tobacco Stick trophy — before losing to Plattsburg in the first round of the Class 1 District 7 Tournament are running backs Remington Wilson and Van French, quarterback Austin Snook, lineman Bart Owens and receivers Corbin Green and Will Morse.
However, the Panthers return a bevy of players who gained valuable experience as sophomores and juniors, including linemen Caleb Hodge, Cameron Leupold and Nelson McCrackin, running backs Chance Chesnut, Ty French and Caine Huffman — who will all also slot into the linebacking corps — offensive lineman and linebacker Chase Chesnut and quarterback Andrew Hernandez, who will also see time at defensive back.
Wright, who is assisted by Ben Goodlet, Daniel Atkinson, Erick Roe and Jeff Wilson, is also expecting contributions from linemen Jakob Peterson and Dane Walker, defensive backs Joel Smyser, Zach Beaty, Blake Gibson, Joe Demarcus and Matrix Large – who will all contribute at the skill positions on offense – and Kaleb Pendlay, who will play both offensive line and linebacker.
“I have truly loved working here with our kids,” Wright said. “We are going to be a team that knows what we are doing, plays with confidence and believes we can win any game on our schedule. … If we take care of the football, block well, tackle well and cause takeaways, we will have a shot against anyone.”
North Platte opens the season with consecutive home games, against Gallatin Friday, Aug. 24 and Princeton Aug. 31 before diving into the conference slate with a road tilt against Plattsburg on Sept. 7.
“Honestly, every one of these games are big,” Wright said. “Each opponent will be challenging and will be a great win for us no matter the opponent. We will line up with a plan, expecting to win, playing to win and in the end, the best team will win.”