High School Sports

Seniors work to change Panthers’ direction

Things can’t get much more frustrating for Perry.

For one thing, they’re on their fourth head coach since 2009.

Secondly, the seniors enter their final season with a 6-24 record.

Finally, their head coach spent most of the offseason battling throat cancer and handling all the exhausting treatment that entails.

If there’s a program battling any perceived jinx, Perry is fairly high on the list. But the Panthers don’t talk like it.

“Last year, I don’t even want to talk about last year,” said Damion Bagley, who is adding the role of quarterback to his duties as an all-region defensive back. “We’ve got seniors that are stepping up more than last year. We’ve got leaders this year.”

Eleven of the 24 losses the past three seasons have been by 19 points or fewer, meaning the Panthers have been competitive. On the other hand, a dozen losses have been by 25 points or more.

During that span, Perry has beaten a quality Macon County team and was respectable for at least a good chunk of the time against Mary Persons, Brooks County, Baldwin, Monroe, Peach County and Howard when all had winning records that season.

Close, yet far away. Talk about a spectrum, like the lost red-zone opportunities in a one-touchdown loss to Peach County last season.

“To their credit, they stopped us,” head coach Carl Dixon said. “But you start letting the air out of the tires when you start doing stuff like that.

“They’ve heard all the ‘rah rah’ speeches, but they’ve been through 3-7 and 1-9, and ‘Here we are struggling again.’ ”

Dixon is in his 11th straight season at Perry, and despite only five winning seasons in that stretch, he remains ever the optimist as he enters his second season as the program’s head coach.

One reason for that is the insertion of Bagley at quarterback.

The Panthers have had little continuity at the key position in recent years, and that continues, but Bagley might add an intangible to the offense that comes with being one of the school’s top athletes of the past decade.

If anybody is tired of Perry’s football woes, it’s Bagley, who saw a little time at quarterback last year in mostly wildcat-scheme situations.

“Last year, I had a little nervous in me,” Bagley said. “Not this year.”

Dixon thinks Bagley can find the confidence in football that he’s always had in basketball, and such an influence can be of great impact on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

Jhi’Marre Brown, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound senior receiver and defensive back, feels it.

“Us seniors, we’re leading,” he said. “It’s going to be a big year for us. We’ve stepped up in leadership, and we’re going to be more physical.

“Everybody’s buying into it.”

Perry

Head coach: Carl Dixon (2-8 in one season overall and at Perry).

2015 record: 2-8.

2016 region: GHSA 2-4A.

Players to watch: Khalil Alexander (5-9, 185, Sr., RB); Jarius Hart (6-0, 185, Sr., RB); Jacqueveon Watkins (5-10, 175, Jr., PR); Damion Bagley (6-2, 195, Sr., DB); Jamati Harris (5-11, 255 Jr., LB).

Schedule:

Aug. 26 Rutland

Sept. 9 Peach County

Sept. 16 at Harris County

Sept. 23 at Veterans

Sept. 30 Dougherty

Oct. 7 Howard

Oct. 14 Upson-Lee

Oct. 21 at Spalding

Oct. 28 at Mary Persons

Nov. 4 West Laurens

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