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First Down: Potomac Falls Panthers

During a one-day tour of all three Sterling schools, I kicked things off at Potomac Falls where I caught my first glimpse of the 2009 Panthers.

With training camp now well underway, we're all anxious to see which teams could contend for district titles and who might surprise some teams in the upcoming season. Over the next few weeks I'll be previewing each of the Dulles District teams with a feature I'm calling "First Down." I'll just do some quick hits with stats and key losses and returning players and tell you what I'll be watching in each team's training camp.

Feel free to contribute any inside information, share notes about up-and-comers from the junior varsity squad or tell my I'm crazy for thinking a certain player is in the running for one starting job or another. As the coaches let on at media day, there are lots of unknowns heading into camp. So feel free to speculate, ruminate and debate any and all football topics here at the Extra Points blog.

Next Up, the Panthers of Potomac Falls...

Coach: Scott Woodlief, fourth year
Last Year: 10-2 (6-1 Dulles District)

Everything came together a year ago as the Panthers exploded from afterthought to district title contender. They steamrolled through their non-district schedule and continued that run into the Dulles District schedule. The only team that figured out how to stop their high-octane offense was the eventual state champion - Broad Run - which shutout the Panthers for the regular season title and knocked them out of the playoffs. Still, it was truly a banner season for the boys in purple and black.

The Panthers lost 19 seniors from last year's team, including key leaders at each of the skill positions. They're heading into 2009 with fresh faces under center, in the backfield, out wide, across the line and in the linebacking corps. All those changes mean plenty of question marks for a team with heaps of inexperience. But in senior wideout Tarrell Owens, junior tailback Leo Pittman III and senior defensive end Mason Mehalic, the Panthers have a handful of known quantities with the potential to step up and become leaders in their final seasons with the team. This group will still rely on a high-scoring offense to put pressure on opposing teams to keep pace. The Panthers are desperate to prove they weren't just a flash in the pan last season and that football at Potomac Falls is on the rise. What can they do for a follow up to the best season in school history? We'll have to wait and see...

Returning Starters: 2
Overall: 36.4 points per game
Passing: 112-214, 1,870 yds, 14 INTs
Rushing: 384 carries, 2,226 yards
Kicking: 5 FGs, 44-58 XPs

Key Losses
RB Michael Baker, QB Gregory Woodlief, WR Chad McMichael, OG Jeremy Fertig, TE Chris Pelto, C Trevor Cottom, PK Asa Fox

Key Returners
WR Tarrell Owens (Sr) - 27 rec., 551 yds, 6 TDs
Overshadowed a bit on offense by Chad McMichael's tremendous season at wide receiver, Owens was never far from opposing defense's thoughts and gameplans in 2008. His size and athleticism make him an absolute nightmare to cover and he'll eat you up if you dare show him one-on-one coverage. Owens has that perfect combination of speed and size which makes him an ideal top receiving threat downfield and over the middle. Look for junior QB Zac Hobby to use Owens as his safety valve in the early going, throwing to the big target when he gets in trouble and relying on Owens to make a play - which he so often does.

Senior RB Leo Pittman III isn't the biggest tailback, but he'll get plenty of touches this season.

RB Leo Pittman III (Jr) - 21 carries, 67 yds, 1 TD; 1 rec., 15 yds
At 5-foot-5, 150 pounds, Pittman is not your prototypical starting tailback, and he's the first to acknowledge that. But what he lacks in size, he hopes to make up for in quickness, versatility and intelligence on the field. Pittman saw very limited action a year ago but took plenty of reps behind the district's leading rusher, Michael Baker and knows how the Panthers' offense works. Assuming Potomac Falls can get enough guys in the mix to keep Pittman fresh, he could be utilized in a similar fashion to Broad Run's Breon Earl, who could run, catch passes out of the backfield, split out wide and return kicks. Expect to see the ball in Pittman's hands as often as they can get it to him this fall.

QB Zac Hobby (Jr) - 3 carries, 9 yds
OK, he's not a returning starter, but he was on the varsity roster a year ago and he's taking over as quarterback. Hobby didn't get many reps under center last season (just look at the numbers), but he said he spent the offseason working out and training with graduated QB Gregory Woodlief. Hobby may not have the same hard-nosed, running back mentality that Woodlief used to rumble to 533 yards and 10 scores, but at 6-foot, 170 pounds, he's taller in the pocket and plans to use that to his advantage. With the Panthers adding a wrinkle to their offense in the form of the triple-option, Hobby has plenty to learn leading up to the team's district opener against Park View on October 9, but with several weapons around him, he should put up solid numbers in an offense that was the league's highest scoring unit a year ago.

Position Battles to Watch
Wide Receiver - There's no question who the No. 1 is on this team, but who fills out the other spots in the spread offense? Two viable options are juniors Brody Frost and Eric Davis. Neither saw much action a year ago and both are under 6-foot, but Woodlief sees potential in both guys to step up and be compliments to Owens and the running game. The Panthers liked to spread the ball around last year to prevent defenses from locking in on a particular receiver. You know people will be doubling Owens nearly every game, but if Frost or Davis can have an impact early on, it could really open things up for this offense.

Running Back - Again, we know Pittman is the likely starter, but with the Panthers going to some triple-option this season, they'll need as many versatile backs as they can get their hands on. Sophomores Tyler Caldwell and Steven Wilson and junior Jules Aquino all fit that mold - smaller, speedy guys with hands who can bounce it to the outside or catch passes and run in the flats. Pittman won't be able to shoulder the load on his own so these guys need to step up and contribute from the outset to help the rushing attack go.

Returning Starters: 3
Overall: 16.4 points allowed per game
Passing: 86-204, 1,049 yds, 10 TDs
Rushing: 355 carries, 1,463 yds, 15 TDs

Key Losses
DL Ricky Lovelace, S Gregory Woodlief, LB Chris Pelto, LB Michael Baker, DB Chad McMichael, DL David Zedan

Key Returners
DL Mason Mehalic (Sr) - One of the few holdovers from last year's lines, the 6-2, 264-pounder will be called upon to step up as a leader this season. He's got the size and quickness to put pressure on the quarterback and is fundamentally sound in his tackling as well. With plenty of new faces beside him, it will be critical for Mehalic to be a vocal and inspirational leader for the lines as they get their feet wet in the early going.

Senior WR/DB Tarrell Owens could be one of the top wideouts in the district.

DBs Tarrell Owens (Sr); Leo Pittman III (Jr) - One is short and speedy, the other tall and supremely athletic. Together this tandem will lead the defensive backfield and could produce some big plays in pass coverage. A year ago, Owens led the district in interceptions (he had three in a single game against Heritage) and returned four for touchdowns. His presence in the vicinity of the opponent's top receiver will force quarterbacks to be more cautious when they look downfield. Owens nearly as a big a threat to score on defense as he is on offense. Meanwhile, Pittman has the quickness to stay with anyone in the district but will need to use his tackling technique to compensate for his small stature. This could be one of the better cornerback pairings in the league.

Position Battles to Watch
Defensive line, linebacker, safety, you name it. There's so much inexperience in this unit that the Panthers are going to need numerous guys without many live varsity reps to come to the forefront and prove they're capable of producing at this level.

8/28 - vs. Jefferson (W.Va.)
9/4 - @ Martinsburg (W.Va.)
9/11 - vs. Kettle Run
9/17 - @ Liberty
9/25 - @ Dominion
10/9 - vs. Park View
10/16 - vs. Briar Woods
10/23 - @ Freedom
10/30 - vs. Broad Run
11/6 - @ Loudoun County

Odds and Ends
- The Panthers plan on continuing to use the aggressive downfield passing game that propelled them to a second-place finish in the district and Region II Division 4 final this season. But to take advantage of the versatility in their backfield - and ease the pressure on Hobby - they'll also employ the triple-option. Tossing that veritable grab-bag of sets and formations will force defenses to guard against much more than the power and counter running plays the Panthers utilize and should allow the smaller, speedier guys in the backfield to find open running lanes.

- Scott Woodlief turned some heads prior to last season when he declared his team would be a contender in the district following a 3-7 2007 campaign. With a senior class loaded with experience, the Panthers did just that, storming out of the gates and defeating all comers (not named Broad Run) en route to an appearance in the Region II Division 4 final. Along the way, the school community was swept up in the hype and mostly empty bleachers were packed by season's end. But with so many graduating players depleting the roster, it will be a true challenge for this squad to build upon last season's success and prove that it was more than a fluke.

- The schedule sets up really nicely for the Panthers as they have a virtual preseason schedule of four consecutive non-district games to lead them into the district schedule. While those four games count toward playoff seeding, its the district record that usually makes or breaks a team's chances to reach the second season. So having four in a row to get the new guys feeling comfortable under the bright lights should really help Potomac Falls heading into an always tough district slate.

Coach's Corner
- "Zac is an athlete that can run around and make some plays. We just need to get him some time up underneath center because he doesn't have much time as a varsity quarterback. I think the first scrimmage was a big jump for him."

- "Our older guys need to display leadership and bring the younger guys along. Just being able to tell them what's going on, what to expect and patting them on the back. You're going to have mistakes with younger kids and the hardest thing is when they make a mistake, they dwell on it and it leads to more mistakes. When you're playing varsity football, you can't do that. Everybody's going to drop a ball and when you do that you forget about it and hopefully you make the catch the next time."

- "We're moving Leo around and try to get him the ball in some different spots. Everybody knows about Tarrell, so no telling what they're going to do with him. And then we've got some younger kids who don't have as much experience, but I think they're faster than Michael (Baker), but they just don't have the reps back there. That's the reason why it's good that we've got four games before our season starts against four good football teams."

- "I think we've got to have some success early, let the kids start believing in themselves. I think that would really benefit these guys." - Coach Woodlief

And for your discussion topics...

A year ago, Tarrell Owens was the second option behind senior standout Chad McMichael. Can Owens assume the mantle with a new quarterback and give the Panthers the district's top receiver for a second consecutive season?

Previous Entries
Briar Woods
Loudoun County
Park View

By Matt Brooks  |  August 21, 2009; 9:55 AM ET
Categories:  Dulles District , Football , High School Sports , Potomac Falls High School  | Tags: Dulles District, Football, Potomac Falls High School  
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