Park Hill South’s hopes for marked improvement center around a now-established quarterback and a pair of Division I-caliber wide receiver/defensive backs.
The past two seasons, the Panthers have accrued a record of 5-15, including 2-8 in 2015 under first-year coach Mike Sharp, and have failed to win a district game since 2013. Their win total has decreased each year since a 7-5 campaign in 2012.
Sharp now seemingly has the talent to rebuild.
Zach Suchanick returns at quarterback for Park Hill South after a solid junior season. The highlights came late in the regular season when the Panthers closed with back-to-back wins, including a comeback to beat St. Joseph Central prior to a season-ending district loss.
Against Central, Suchanick led a last-minute touchdown drive, hitting senior Dillon Thomas with the winning pass.
Thomas — committed to Northern Illinois — pairs with fellow senior Jake Springer on the outside of Park Hill South’s offense and defense, giving the Panthers two versatile wide receivers on offense and potential shutdown corners on defense. Springer continues to receive interest from multiple Division I teams.
Last season, Springer and Thomas were the leading receivers for Park Hill South along with Alfoncio Rand, one of only a few key losses.
Park Hill South’s defense returns mostly intact, although defensive end Tyler Baska, linebacker Jordan Bell and defensive backs Rand and Jake Saylor were big contributors in 2015. Everett Horton, a senior linebacker, earned All-Suburban Conference Red Division honors last year while leading the Panthers in tackles. Trace Weatherford — a 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior — moves over from tight end to defensive end and could help replace the production of Baska, who signed to play at Missouri Western after last season.
And yet, the offense could turn into the premier unit for Park Hill South.
Emmanuel Butler, a senior, developed into the Panthers’ top rusher last season and heads up an experienced backfield that should also include senior Caiden Bowen, a transfer from Park Hill. Chris Carpenter, an all-league pick, and Noah Salsbury provide size and senior leadership on the line.
Park Hill South scored 21 or more points last year in four games but gave up 21 or more in nine. While the offense could be more consistent, the defense will need to improve to help key the expected turnaround.
“The Panthers will be a more physical, confident football team,” Sharp said. “The young men have finished a challenging offseason and have earned the right to compete at a high level. I’m really looking forward to the upcoming season. They have done everything we have asked of them.”