NP Preseason

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 14, 2012

New coach’s strategy raises excitement of Cougar team

By Myra Bean

He has only been at North Panola a few months but the football program already bears the mark of his touch.

Derek King took over the beleaguered program in April, promising a more structured program to nurture the young men who pass through the field house doors. He knew after a 2-18 record over two years that he inherited a program of players who were not used to winning.

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He compiled a coaching staff unlike one ever seen at North Panola, all under 35-years-old, and reports the players are responding positively to the instruction and discipline of the coaches.

Returning from last year’s staff are offensive coordinator Vaughn Daniels and defensive assistant coach Timothy Krautkramer. Besides King, newcomers include defensive coordinator Denver Wade, assistants Robert Lester Jr. and Chris Diffee.

Though King did midnight madness practices when he was in high school, not so long ago, that is relatively new in Mississippi. However North Panola started the season with a midnight practice and a two day sleepover.

“It was also for a bonding issue. With a team that is not use to winning, things can get very divisive. So it was a time for us to meet with the boys, talk to them about life, manhood, things other than football. Having them here, joking with them, playing cards and video games, eat together, we had a devotional before we started practicing. All of that stuff made a big difference in what we are trying to do.'”

Overall Team Look

King reports that players are learning what is expected of them not only on the field but also in the classroom.

King is very aware that there are a lot of questions the fans and community have as this season starts with the third new coach in three years.

“Obviously there should be a question mark because there is not a lot to go on based on what happened in the past and having a brand new staff,” King said.

One thing King assured is that this year’s Cougar team will be competitive.

“Definitely, any coach would say we will be competitive. I really believe there will be evidence of growth, strength, competitiveness, very obvious improvement in every phase of the game.”
With that improvement comes confidence and excitement from the players about what is going on with the program. King said that excitement was instilled after they got in the weightroom and worked out twice a day at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

“Then we worked on training our minds and our bodies to be stronger,” he said. “We did a lot of competition stuff like bench press and squats. In July we did 7-on-7s. We went to Oxford, North Delta and did the team camp in North Alabama. We got to go away, spend two nights in Alabama and got to compete against other teams. Then we finished with a 7-on-7 at Coldwater.”

From the camps, King said the team, initially, got to see how other teams prepare.
“The other teams were in very good shape already in the middle of the summer,” he said. “I think it gave our boys kind of a measuring stick so they could see where we need to get to in order to be that caliber of a team.”

Team Depth

With 41 players on the team, depth at the offensive and defensive lines is of major concern to King. He said a hand full of players will have to play both ways to start the season.

“We have shored up those areas. I think it is because they have had another year to grow,” he said. “What we want to do is really focus on getting them in one position and having them learn it and learn it well so they can play on Friday, versus a lot of switching back and forth. We really want to challenge our coaches to coach some of the guys up who have no experience in those positions. Then we will have depth and we will also keep guys fresher.”

Skilled positions include six receivers-three seniors, three sophomores, senior quarterback, and a senior and a freshman running back.

“We have all ages in skill positions and full of speed,” King said. “Defensively, all of our linebackers are back this year. We have a senior cornerback. Even though they have not won in the past, we have about 16 seniors this year, which is really good. We have been relying on them to get some things done.”

King predicts the defensive secondary is going to be very strong. They are running a 4-2-5 defense with a very athletic cornerback in senior Steve Russell and a free safety in freshman Justin Conner.

“We are going to have a lot of versatility,” he said. “I think we have one of the most athletic secondaries.”

Special Teams

Special teams is one of the areas that seem to get overlooked in high school football, according to King.

“We have a very structured way of doing special teams. We do individual and we do group. Then we do team. Schemes will be for us and based on our skill set. I think special teams will allow us to make a lot more plays throughout the season.”

Coaching Staff

The coaching staff is working well together, according to King.

“We have spent quite a lot of time together, according to King.

“We have spent quite a lot of time together this summer and the overnight camp,” he said.

He spoke about how the transition was easier with returning coaches Timothy Krautkramer and Vaughn Daniels from last year’s staff.

“Coach Krautkramer had his rapport with them so did coach Daniels,” said King. “Bringing in coach Denver Wade was huge. There is a little adjusting there. He is really endearing himself to them and the boys are responding. Coach Robert Lester knows the boys. Having coach Chris Diffee come in has been awesome for him to work with the receivers  and have another offensive mind to kind of throw things back and forth.”


North Panola starts the season on the road Friday at 4A Tunica Rosa Fort, a long time rival. After an early season open date on August 24, the Cougars host 4A Lewisburg in the home opener then travel to 6A Desoto Central. The final non-conference contest is against Benton County in homecoming September 21. This is Benton County’s initial season playing football as an independent school, head coached by former North Panola and South Panola assistant coach Eric Rice.

“One good thing is at the beginning of the season we are playing up,” King said.
“I think that will sharpen us and have us more than ready for district play.”

In Region 3-3A is Charleston, who won the state 3A championship last year.

“I have great respect for them,” King said. “They have a great program and are doing things the right way. Winona will be a very solid team as well. Then we have Byhalia and Palmer, who all beat North Panola last year. North Panola beat Independence but Independence has a good coach. They have some good things going on up there. I coached against them when I was at Coldwater.”

One of the toughest stretches will be having Winona and Charleston back-to-back, according to King. Those are not necessarily losses for North Panola to King.

“Those  can be very big weeks for us if we can put ourselves into position to be competitive with them,” he said. “Again the beginning of our schedule is probably more important because it will give us an idea of what we have against bigger teams. It will give us an opportunity to be in playoff position.”

Changing their mind set about teams like Charleston and Winona and becoming more confident in what they can do is what King said will have them approaching those games differently.

“In practice, we work on knowing your assignment, getting that play in, get set, run the play well,” King said.  “Putting all the pieces together in the picture makes it work. They will get in the habit of knowing what’s going on and that will help us going  forward when we start developing that kind of winner’s attitude.

Obviously, the best thing is winning a game.

“When we get to the point of thinking, ‘Yes, we have been through this. Yes, we are fully capable of doing this.’ A lot of positive reinforcements will come through their actions.
As the season approaches Friday, King wants the community to understand what “our boys” are going through.

“We are putting in a lot of time in the beginning,” King said. “We want the community to be proud of what we are doing. We want to make sure all the alumni, all the relatives, anybody who used to be a part of North Panola to understand what we are doing. Come out see the practices, they are all open. Come show support.”