Carolina Forest rode its blue-collar attitude and work ethic all the way into the 2007 playoffs. Now the Panthers are riding into Class AAAA without many of those responsible for last year's success.
Coach Drew Hummel enters his third year with plenty of questions to answer. Although he believes the program is better off now than it was two years ago, he has spent the entire offseason answering one lingering question: Does he have enough ammunition to compete at the highest level?
``We'll be as good as we can be,'' Hummel said. ``What does that mean? I don't know. It's going to depend on how we develop up front offensively and defensively. If those things come through, I think we can be a scrappy, competitive team that can knock anybody off.''
It's rare that a Carolina Forest team has been described as having more depth at the skill positions than up front. The Panthers return dangerous weapons on offense and good athletes on defense, but only three of nine total line starters return, leaving inexperienced players to battle for spots in the supreme battleground.
Leading rushers Chris Page, David LaRose and Jermany Parson are gone, but the Panthers are confident that Brian Bellamy can carry much of the load at tailback. Quarterback Matthew Jolly is in his first year as a starter, but he knows the offense and made smart decisions with the ball this summer. However, the Panthers may go in a different direction under center.
Hummel has overhauled his staff, including the addition of Maurice Murphy, the former head coach at Loris, from Blythewood. He now runs the Panthers' strength program, a focal point with the move up in classifications.
``The larger schools we're going to play have bigger guys, more depth and more speed,'' Jolly said. ``So what we've been doing is lifting and running a lot to get up to par with those guys. With the schemes we're running on offense and defense, we feel like we'll be able to hold our own.''