Thursday October 19th, 2017 7:59PM

Football 2013: Union County ready to serve its talented youth

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor


MASCOT: Panthers

TEAM COLORS: Purple & Gold


HEAD COACH/RECORD AT SCHOOL: Brian Allison, 12th year total, sixth season in a row, 60-51


KEY LOSSES: QB T Bentley, FB Johnathan Hughes, OL/DL Craig Jones, OL CJ Byers, WR Lalo Rivera, PK, P Eric Hougrand, DB Clay Burnette, DB Jonah Whitmer, DB Josh Kim, LB Cody Davenport

OFFENSIVE STYLE: Spread -- The Panthers are looking for an even balance in the run and pass game but will rely on several younger players in 2013.

KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: Sr. OL Luther Jones, Jr. QB Ralston Drake, So. QB Joseph Mancuso, So. RB Nick Whittle, Jr. RB Chase Barnett, Jr. WR Robert Prunier, Jr. WR Jacob Rogers

DEFENSIVE STYLE: 50 -- Union County will look to stop the run first but must replace much in the linebacker corps and secondary.

KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: Sr. DL Luther Jones, Jr. LB Chase Barnett (leading tackler in 2012), Jr. DB Robert Prunier

SPECIAL TEAMS: Sr. PK TJ Smith, Jr. P Robert Prunier (there are still battles going on these positions, however, and coach Allison says things could change)

STRENGTH: Offensive skill positions/defensive line -- Despite its youth, Union County may be at its most athletic in some time in the backfield and at wide receiver. Meanwhile, the defensive line has a chance to be very good.

QUESTION: Inexperience -- the Panthers could be starting as many as 7 sophomores on offense at one time, and there could be growing pains.

KEY GAMES: Sept. 6 at Fannin County will tell the Panthers much about their abilities, while a Sept. 27 trip to Washington-Wilkes could be the hardest road test of the campaign. Oglethorpe County (Oct. 4, home) will also feature plenty of talent, as will Rabun County (Oct. 25, home). The regular season finale against Jefferson (Nov. 8, home) will also be tough.

TRENDING: The Panthers notched their first winning season in three years in 2012 but graduated a number of standouts from that team. There is plenty of young talent on hand, but it will have to grow up quickly against a stout schedule.

Aug. 30 vs. Towns County
Sept. 6 at Fannin County
Sept. 13 at Andrews, N.C.
Sept. 27 at Washington-Wilkes
Oct. 4 vs. Oglethorpe County
Oct. 11 at Riverside Military
Oct. 18 vs. Greene County
Oct. 25 vs. Rabun County
Nov. 1 at Social Circle
Nov. 8 vs. Jefferson
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BLAIRSVILLE -- Brian Allison is excited about the future of Union County football.<br /> <br /> He also knows the present could bring with it some growing pains.<br /> <br /> "I can't say enough about how hard the guys worked this summer and in the preseason, but we've got some major holes to fill this season, especially in the secondary and at linebacker," Allison said. "We're going to be inexperienced in spots."<br /> <br /> That also includes the Panthers' offense, which could feature as many as seven sophomores in the line-up at some point.<br /> <br /> Those younger players carry with them some big-time potential, however, and Allison believes that, once they get acclimated, Union County could be looking at something very special indeed.<br /> <br /> "We could have as many as 18 starters back next year," Allison said. "And the young guys we have playing offense have already started to come around pretty well."<br /> <br /> The Panthers' spread attack has put up points for a number of seasons, and this year's group should be no different, taking advantage of what opposing defenses give them with both speed and skill to spare.<br /> <br /> "We may have a weapon or two in that group," Allison said. <br /> <br /> That could include two quarterbacks, as Union looks for a starter to emerge from a battle between junior Ralston Drake and sophomore Joseph Mancuso. Drake, who missed last season through injury, is an impressive athlete that can pull the ball down and run, as well as rely on his arm, while the younger Mancuso has a bigger frame and can rifle the ball.<br /> <br /> "We may rotate the two of them," Allison said.<br /> <br /> Whoever features at signal caller will be joined in the backfield by running backs Nick Whittle and Chase Barnett, while Jacob Rogers, Sam Gilbert and Robert Prunier fill roles at receiver.<br /> <br /> The biggest question comes at offensive line, where senior center Luther Jones leads a group that could include four sophomores.<br /> <br /> "Luther is a big part of the team, and we've got to keep him healthy," Allison said of the standout, who will also anchor the Panthers' defensive front.<br /> <br /> Barnett also returns at inside linebacker and was the team's leading tackler in 2012. Prunier, meanwhile, is looking to lock up a spot in the secondary.<br /> <br /> "The defensive line should be strong; we've got three juniors and a senior there," Allison said. "But at linebacker and in the secondary we have 3-4 people working at a lot of spots, trying to earn a starting position.<br /> <br /> "There is a lot of potential on this team, and I like its make-up," Allison said. "But it's not going to be easy going in the region, and we're going to have to work hard."<br /> <br /> The Panthers just missed out on a playoff spot last season, earning their first winning record in three years, and Allison hopes this group of Panthers can build on that momentum.
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