KNOXVILLE — Eric Kellar’s Panthers will be a young and inexperienced team this year with eight returning letter winners and about 50 kids out for the team.
Knoxville is coming off a 1-8 record last year as they look to be competitive each time they take the field.
Returners for Knoxville included seniors Grant Liston (TE/LB), Mike Greubel (RB/LB), Hayden Lee (OL/LB) and Tyler Kearney (K) along with juniors TJ DeJong (RB/LB), Gavin Montalvo (RB/DE), Braiden Dudley (RB/DB) and sophomore Dakota Ramsey (RB/LB).
Montalvo and DeJong return as the top two rushers from last year’s team as the duo combined for 596 yards on 116 carries (5.1 yards per carry) with four touchdowns. The two bring good experience to the offense and should be a focal point for the Panthers.
Knoxville does lose two key players at quarterback and wide receiver with the graduation of Kieren Nichols and Mike Hudson. Sophomore Noah Keefer should have the early running for the QB job after seeing some time on the field last year, completing 12-of-29 passes for 178 yards and one interception. Fellow sophomore Dakota Ramsey could be a top target in the passing game after catching six passes for 54 yards in 2020.
Ramsey is also the top returning tackler on defense as the linebacker had 33.5 tackles last season. Montalvo could also be an impact player for the Panther defense as the defensive end is coming off of a 15.5 tackle, two sacks and six tackles for loss campaign.
Kearney returns to lead the special teams after doing kicking and punting duties last year. He had four touchbacks in 18 kickoffs while making 6-of-8 extra points. He also had 35 punts with an average of 31.2 yards.
The Panthers should have some good skill players to match with good leaders but the need for growth on the offensive line will be needed to let some of those skill players do their thing. Hayden Jones comes over as a senior transfer and could be one of the anchors in the trenches.
Knoxville will be in Class 3A this season with the top two teams in each district making the playoffs. Favorites for the district will likely be Harlan (11-1 in 2020) and Atlantic (7-2 in 2020). The Panthers will see both teams late in the season.
They will have non-district games at home against Newton and Carlisle and are on the road at Oskaloosa and Fairfield. The home game against Creston on Sept. 24 will serve as Homecoming.