Last year was a different experience for John Robert Simon — his first season of football not playing quarterback.
Simon played defensive back for Putnam City North as a sophomore, but as he heads into his junior season, he's back behind center once again.
“I've played quarterback my whole life until last year,” he said. “I've learned all the plays and I feel pretty comfortable. I understand it's big and I have some pressure on me, but I think I'll be able to handle it.”
Simon is a gifted athlete who was coming off the bench on Rick Harris' varsity basketball team as a freshman. Now, he's the starting quarterback for a perennial playoff team — and he doesn't have very many returning starters around him to ease the transition.
Running back Dre Holman, who has looked like he's at the top of his game during the preseason, is back to carry the load, but the Panthers have a mostly new offensive line, except for left tackle Daniel Burton.
“The returning starters have helped the others get into the offense and learn it better,” Simon said. “The others that are coming up, they've stepped up and I think they'll be OK.”
The receiving corps is filled with several new faces as the Panthers try to replace the production of Covin Conrady. Jarris Wade, Alex Clark and Gaige Webster are at the front of the pack in that competition.
But the run game is the biggest key for the Panther offense.
“We've got Dre and Tae Moore and a couple more guys who can help if we need them,” Simon said. “I feel like we'll be good in the backfield.”
Defensively, PC North will rely on its secondary.
“We've got more experience in the back end,” coach Bob Wilson said. “There were times last year when we weren't very good back there, but I think those kids learned a lot.”
In all, the back seven has several players with game experience, like Clark, Bray Humphreys, Jmon Ratliff, Vidale Gant, Roosevelt Turner. At linebacker, Ruben Hunter and Eric Sadler will be counted on heavily.