By CHRIS HOBBS
Conference: Northwestern Foothills 2A.
Head coach: Clay Lewis (57-22, 7 years).
Last season’s records: 14-1 overall; 7-0 Northwestern 3A-4A, conference champion.
Last season’s results: E. Burke, W 56-0; at Maiden, W 49-20; W. Caldwell, W 38-7; Ashe County, W 64-14; at S. CALDWELL, W 61-0; ST. STEPHENS, W 44-0; at FRED T. FOARD, W 56-7; WATAUGA, W 28-27; FREEDOM, W 53-0; at PATTON, W 40-0; at HICKORY, W 48-7; McMichael, W 56-28; Burns, W 67-28; W. Rowan, W 49-20; South Point, L 0-26.
SCHOOL FOOTBALL HISTORY
Last season in state playoffs: 2016, 3A.
Last state playoff victory: 2016, d. W. Rowan 49-20, third round.
All-time state playoff bids: 19.
Conference titles since 1980, last: 5 (4 outright, 1 share); 2016 Northwestern 3A-4A.
BY THE NUMBERS
Returning starters: 10.
Returning letterman: 26.
Returning starters: 5.
Leading returning rusher: Gee Witherspoon (173-1,065, 17 TDs).
Leading returning passer: Jaylen Scott (6-12-1, 124, 1 TD).
Leading returning receiver: Gee Witherspoon (4-113, 2 TDs).
Other players to watch: Jonas Brown (Sr., WR); Skylin Thomas (Jr., RB); Kevon Wilson (Jr., RB); Hayden Wyke (Jr., FB).
Returning starters: 5
Players to watch: Charles Tassinari (Sr., LB); Josh Baker (Jr., DT); Wynton Horton (Jr. LB); Marqwone Jones (Jr., DT).
As happy as Lewis may be to hear words like “hands down favorite” and “automatic” about his Panthers and the title race in their new league, he’s probably cringing as well – he takes nothing for granted.
A year removed from making the West 3A title game and going 14-1, Hibriten is headed into a seven-team 2A conference that doesn’t have as many teams in it that can offer a substantial Panthers.
There are five returning starters on offense and five on defense, with offensive star Gee Witherspoon back at running back.
But like many of the past 10 years or so, what the Panthers normally beat teams with is depth, team play and discipline – a trademark that goes back to the days when former Hibriten QB Chuck Cannon got the program rolling with a 10-win season in 2002.
The Panthers have won more games (96) in the last decade than any other Greater Hickory area school, and their 47 wins in the last five trails only Freedom (50).
Is Hibriten the Northwestern Foothills 2A favorite? Yes. Unless something completely out of left field develops, the Panthers will go to the state playoffs for the 16th consecutive season and also post their 10th straight non-losing year (they were 6-6 in 2011).
For the old goats who can remember back this far – can you believe that Hibriten had back-to-back winless seasons in 1991 and 1992? That’s what makes high school football special… hard work pays off.