After a much-needed breakout season under a new coach, North Platte needs to find a way to keep up the momentum despite losing a sizable chunk of players responsible for a quick turnaround.
The Panthers went 5-7 last season and advanced to the Class 1 District 7 championship game before their season ended with a second loss to rival West Platte. Three players — all seniors — earned all-state honors playing for first-year coach Josh Rodriguez, who took over a program with just one win in the previous two seasons.
North Platte’s last winning season came back in 2011.
To have a shot to improve on last year’s win total, Rodriguez will have to come up with new parts on the offense. Anthony Hernandez accounted for nearly all of North Platte’s passing last year, while he joined running backs Jordan Hendricks and Aron Burke as the top three rushers.
All three graduated.
Ben French, a senior, threw 10 passes last year but appears set for an expanded role at running back. He rushed for 264 yards last season, while catching 12 passes for 188 yards in addition to 108 tackles from his linebacker spot.
Van French, a junior, will play some fullback.
Parker Rotterman, another senior, will likely get a crack at fullback in addition to linebacker duties, while junior Remington Wilson could also see more time in the offensive backfield at running back while filling out an experience linebacker corps. Wilson made a team-high 151 tackles last season.
Hendricks (985 yards, eight touchdowns) and Aron Burke (427 yards, five touchdowns) were North Platte’s top two running backs last season.
Austin Snook, a junior, will receive the first crack at quarterback snaps, replacing Hernandez (1,076 pass yards, 554 rushing yards and 13 total touchdowns.) Hendricks and Kyle Ewing were the top two receivers last year for the Panthers, and with both gone, junior Will Morse will be a top target for Snook after catching just three passes last year.
While the linebacker spots appear stacked, North Platte also needs to find new contributors at the front and back of a defense that allowed 30 or more points five times last season.
Hendricks (93 tackles, 11 passes defensed) and Jonathan Collins (85 tackles and four sacks) received all-state accolades at defensive back and defensive tackle, respectively. Ewing made the coaches all-state list at punter.
French and junior Bart Owens will be counted on in the defensive line, along with junior Gideon Bledsoe and sophomore Chase Chesnut.
Rodriguez also expects junior receivers Corbin Green and Jake Williams to make an impact along with Chance Chesnut at tight end. Owens, Bledsoe and Chase Chesnut will also be factors on the offensive line.