Nickerson is returning nearly the entire starting lineup from last season and is hungry for a winning season. If the Panthers can stay healthy, they hope to be in the hunt for a league title.
Coach: Max Heinlein (7th year head coach at Nickerson, 19-39 record)
2011 Recap: 4-5 Overall, 1-3 in CKL South Division, 0-3 in District.
Nickerson picked up from the momentum of a successful 2010 season, going 4-2 through the regular season with its only losses coming to a couple of playoff teams in Abilene and Hesston. But the Panthers hit a major stumbling block with a 1-point loss to Haven in the first district game, leaving must win games against Pratt and Buhler that Nickerson could not overcome.
Returning Starters: Offensive 9, Defensive 8
Returning Lettermen: 21
2012 District: Andale, Buhler, Cheney
Although the Panthers will be without the services of Quintin Crandall, he is only one of two starters from last year’s offense that Nickerson will be losing. And when Nickerson’s offense was clicking last year, it was tough to stop.
A big part of Nickerson’s offense is returning senior fullback Isaac Warman. Warman hopes to punish defenses for the third year in a row. In each of the last two seasons, he has picked up over 1,000 yards on the ground. But Warman’s experience and proven track record is only one piece of a backfield that promises to be a major strength of this team. Seniors Tyler Owen and Sean Rodriguez give the Panthers two more threats out of the backfield. Stopping any one of these backs will be tough, stopping them all will be a nightmare.
In order for the Nickerson backfield to have success, it will be up to some younger players to fill in at the one place in the roster the Panthers might be vulnerable; the offensive line. Juniors Nate Hiatt and Cade Hawver bring experience up front, and will lead the charge on the offensive line. But the success of this team may lie in the hands of the younger linemen, and their willingness to put in the amount of work to become varsity-caliber players.
Taking over for Crandall is senior quarterback Ryan O’Toole. O’Toole brings a sizable frame to the position and will have a wide range of up-and-coming receivers to target. Jalen Karber, Jake Stiverson, Chance Jordan, and Bryon Young are all viable options in the passing game.
When talking about the Nickerson defense, the conversation begins and ends with linebackers. The Panthers are returning the entire linebacker corps from a defense that held opponents to single digits in three of their four wins.
Having a group of linebackers led by Bailey Zulkoski, with Tyler Owen, Tanner Vick, and Duncan Ensminger, all seniors, will drive the Nickerson defense and provide problems for offensive coordinators in the CPL.
Senior Sean Rodriguez will anchor the secondary at safety, and will have a number of players stepping up in support. Jalen Karber and Chance Jordan will hold down the corners with Jake Stiverson joining Rodriguez at the safety position.
Just as with the Nickerson offense, the success of its defense may lie within the ability of younger players to step up on the line of scrimmage. If the Panthers can find the depth and the ability to consistently get penetration from the defensive linemen, their linebackers will be able to make plays all over the field.
Odds and Ends:
When the current group of seniors first took the practice field as freshmen, the Panthers struggled through a one-win season. Since then, Nickerson has been heading in the right direction. After a six-win season in 2010, the Panthers had a few growing pains last season, but hope to use the experience gained from a large senior class. For Nickerson’s seniors, the dues have been paid and the time has come for the work put in to pay off. It is no longer a matter of simply being competitive. This is a team that will expect to win every time it takes the field.
And the Panthers will have a chance to put the CKL on notice early in the season. Nickerson opens the season with a home game against Pratt, a team that lost its star quarterback, but does return a lot of talent from a team that was picked by many to win the league last season. After Pratt, the Panthers stay in Nickerson to take on Hesston, the two-time defending league champions. The third game of the season is the first road game, against Hillsboro, a team that last missed the playoffs in 2005.