BRUSHY PRAIRIE — Prairie Heights has some experience on the offensive and defensive lines for a change to help its building efforts in 2020.

Three starters return on the offensive line and a fourth junior who started in spots and saw a lot of action. Those guys are all juniors in Bailey Robison, Cody Melson, Hunter Allen and Justus Spriggs.

“Their maturity, both mentally and physically, has grown,” fifth-year Panther coach Pat McCrea said. “They’ve become better leaders.

“I’m excited about our offensive line. We have some depth there. We’ll either start five juniors or four juniors and a sophomore.”

The Panthers (2-9, 0-4 Northeast Corner Conference Small School division, last year) are growing gradually. They had numbers in the mid-30s last season, including six seniors. The team’s biggest losses were skilled player Ethan Hoover, the Panthers’ career passing yardage leader, and lineman Isaac Tarney, who will play football at Trine University.

McCrea believes he will have around 40 kids in the program this season, including seven or eight seniors. The leading seniors will be free safety Storm Chaffee and skilled guys Quintin Ross and Gavin Culler.

The Panthers have some experience at quarterback after Hoover. Junior Luke Severe started the final four games last season, and that included throwing four touchdown passes in Heights’ 44-23 Class 2A first-round sectional home win over Whitko. McCrea said Severe has grown from his experiences last season.

Prairie Heights made some changes to its schedule to help itself be more competitive. There is potential to do well at the start against teams in similar situations the first two weeks. The Panthers open at Whitko on Aug. 21, then host Bronson, Michigan, on Aug. 28. PH beat the Wildcats and Vikings last season. The Panthers defeated Whitko in first-round sectional games the last two seasons in Brushy Prairie.

Heights took Garrett and Angola off the schedule. In place of the Hornets in week 7, the Panthers will host an often formidable 2A program from Bremen on Oct. 2. The Lions have won six sectional championships and two regional titles in the last 10 seasons.

“We’ve been presented some different challenges (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), but we’re moving ahead really well in the right direction,” McCrea said. “I’m happy with where we’re at.

“The kids have shown the desire to get out there and work hard. They’re excited to play some football.”

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