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Panthers back to work to begin 2018 season

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North Pitt football players sprint across the parking lot during practice, Monday afternoon.

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By Jake Keator
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

High school football teams across North Carolina were back in action Monday, as the day marked the first official day of the 2018 football season.

The North Pitt Panthers are ready to open a new chapter on their program, as they look to improve from a 1-10 record in 2017. At the helm of the Panthers is Head Coach Greg Watford, who replaces former coach Garrett Wingate. Watford is the Panthers fourth coach in as many years.

The Panthers program craved stability from its coaching staff, and Watford and his staff have provided the framework for what they hope is a rejuvenated and fresh squad after the summer months.

The arrival of a new coach also signals the arrival of a new offensive scheme. In charge of learning that scheme will be sophomore quarterback Alex Espinosa-Johnson, who won the job over senior Kijwon Williams. Williams will continue to be the team’s starting safety, as well as Johnson’s back-up.

In evaluating the two, Watford saw Williams as the better option-based quarterback, but he went with Johnson based on the teams offensive style.

“Based on the running-backs we have, and the fact that Alex is two years younger, and he’s a better passer at this time we went with him,” Watford said.

Johnson said that he is excited to have earned the starting job, but that he is still working to learn the system early in the offseason,\ and continue to earn the respect of his teammates. He said he is excited for the upcoming season and is ready to hit the field.

Senior wide receiver and defensive back Keshon Cox is one of many in the locker room who believe Johnson is ready to take charge of the team.

“Alex was a little shy at first, but he’s come around, he’s playful and a fun guy. I really like his vision for the team,” Cox said.

The Panthers have added more players to their roster over the past several days, according to Watford. Cox also took notice of the uptick of bodies at practice.

“There are a lot of new guys out here, big guys, and they’ve brought more guys with them as well,” Cox said. “I feel that was one of the things we were lacking last year, was a defensive line. It’s all going to come together and we are ready to work.”

A key part of Watford’s culture is centered on hard work and effort.

“That’s what I love about football, it is a meritocracy. You have to earn your keep,” Watford said while addressing his team at practice.

Along with effort, Watford has focused on conditioning his players over the summer and into the official beginning of the season. With improved conditioning, players can give maximum effort, and lower risk of injury.

“We have to stay healthy, that’s a key,” Watford said.

The Panthers open up their 2018 season Aug. 7 with a home game against Gates County.

Contact Jake Keator at 252-329-9594 or jkeator@reflector.com and follow @JakeKeatorDR on twitter

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