On paper, the biggest returning asset for the Panthers offense is senior quarterback Colin Houck, and why not?
After all, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound two-sport star — he’s also a big-time baseball prospect — has thrown for 4,095 yards and 42 TDs during his three years in the program, the last two as the Panthers’ starter.
That said, an equally important factor in 2022 will be the return of most of last year’s offensive line.
That group — led by junior tackles Jordan Davis and Josh Floyd, senior guard Michael Moore, rotating junior Josh Haynes and sophomore center Cortez Smith — came in with the plenty of size, strength and athleticism last year, but was also extremely green from a football standpoint.
With a year of growth and maturity under its collective belt, the group’s presence should not only help Houck, but also give the Parkview running game a lot more time and space to operate this fall.
“Really, I would say (the line is) is most improved unit from the beginning of last season to this point right now,” Parkview coach Eric Godfree said. “Four of the five starters are back. Really, all five of them that are starting offensive line (this year) started at some point in the season last year.
“It’s going to help (Houck) a lot because we really didn’t have much of a run game last year being so young up front. (Against) North Gwinnett, we had to throw for 290 (yards because we) rushed for negative-six. So being able to run the ball is going to help Colin tremendously in the passing game.”
Despite losing one starting receiver last year, Houck will also have plenty of help from others this season, including last year’s leading receiver and five-star prospect Mike Matthews (48-764, 7 TDs), while fellow junior Khyair Spain (85-731, 11 TDs) returns to lead the revamped ground game.
As much of a boost as the maturing of the offensive line will bring to the offense, it also should have an indirect effect on the defense.
With the offense able to be more productive and spend more time on the field, that gives the defense a chance to be better rested and fresher at the end of games than last year, when that unit was taxed to its limit.
“Our goal is ultimately to get (the defense) off the field,” Godfree said. “We feel like we can be so good on offense, to move the ball, to get first downs, which ultimately helps keeps the defense off the field. So (we have) that emphasis for our defense, ‘Hey, let’s get off the field and get our offense on the field.”
The strength of the defense could be in the secondary, which Godfree calls, “maybe our best secondary we’ve ever had.”
Juniors Jalyn Crawford (23 tackles, 9 PBUs) and Terrence Curtis (47 tackles, 5½ TFL, 7 PBUs) man the corners, and sophomore Sean Ferguson helps provide depth, while Matthews (27 tackles, 1 INT) and talented freshman Zelus Hicks give the Panthers a lot of athleticism at the safety position.
The big question will be how well the front seven will develop behind senior Caleb Hamilton and junior Abdul Mohammed at defensive tackle and juniors Kendall Beard and Spain and sophomore Justin Nunn at linebacker.
The well-chronicled youth and inexperience were big factors in why the Parkview had to battle through a rare 4-7 season and slip into the region’s final playoff spot through a tiebreaker last season.
Godfree and the Panthers definitely would like to avoid having to leave that much to chance in 2022, though the addition of Archer to an already tough gauntlet that includes Grayson, Brookwood, South Gwinnett and Newton won’t make that task any easier.
“We’d rather control our destiny and not leave it to a tiebreaker,” Godfree said. “Everywhere throughout Georgia, (Class) AAAAAAA football this year, we picked up a lot of good teams — all the good teams outside of Langston (Hughes) from AAAAAA are now in AAAAAAA. So it’s going to be tough all the way around. A top seed will be really important in terms of getting deep into the playoffs.”