Park Hill South will have to work quick to make sure the revival doesn’t lead to a one-season success story.
The Panthers reached the playoffs for the first time since 2010 with an eight-game winning streak in 2016. Following a loss to Park Hill in the regular season, the Panthers rolled through the Suburban Conference Red Division and Class 5 District 7 unbeaten before a loss to Staley ended the memorable season.
Four of the five all-state performers last season were seniors, including dual threat WR/DB Jake Springer, punter Kyle Pitts and defensive standouts Payton Ireland and Everett Horton. Park Hill South also must replace Dillon Thomas, an emotional leader after the Northern Illinois-standout missed most of his senior season with a torn ACL.
“Last season, we had a tremendous group of young men who had played a lot of football the previous two seasons through some very difficult situations and some of them were not varsity ready in previous years but this experience became a weapon for us last season,” Park Hill South coach Mike Sharp said.
The talented senior class won just 11 games in the first three seasons at Park Hill South before last year’s turnaround.
Most of the offensive production will need to be replaced with the loss of quarterback Zach Suchanick plus Springer and Thomas at wide receiver and running backs Emmanuel Butler and Caeden Bowen — the Panthers’ top two rushers in 2016. No one on the roster threw a pass last year, and the top returning rusher had nine yards on the ground.
Sam Beuerlein, a senior who played an H-back role last year, ranked second for the Panthers in 2016 with 22 receptions and fourth with 142 receiving yards.
“We’re a little young this year, but I’m excited to lead our young ones into battle, get them ready to rock and roll,” said Park Hill South junior offensive lineman Ben Becker, a 6-foot-5, 280-pound burgeoning collegiate prospect. “We definitely laid a good foundation. That’s a big thing coach Sharp has brought to our program is foundation and that senior class last year really laid it so we’re hoping to continue that tradition.”
Becker leads Park Hill South’s offensive line with three returning starters, including All-Red Division performer Christian Holferty andChristian Pirnack — both juniors. In addition, junior Tyler Templin comes back after playing as a sophomore.
Park Hill South ran for more than 2,000 yards and passed for right at 1,501 in 2016 while averaging nearly 32 points per game.
The line will try to hold up while seniors Taylor Tobin and Billy Eggers battle for the quarterback job. Beuerlein will be back as a versatile threat, while the running back and wide receiver spots will feature a lot of new faces.
The defensive line will be completely remade with juniors Addison Snowball, ET Reuben and Gage Gordon in the mix. Connor Campbell, an all-conference linebacker, was Park Hill South’s leading tackler in his junior season with 103 tackles.
The next eight on the list all graduated, but junior defensive backs Braeden Denney (28 tackles) and Payton Murray (24 tackles, one fumble recovery) received plenty of playing time at defensive back a year ago.
“Our conference is tough, and there’s a lot of really good football teams,” Sharp said. “However I think as long as we can stay injury free and continue to compete, we’re hoping to kind of rebound and hopefully defend our conference