While the Phillipsburg High School football team has built itself into a state contender year after year, seemingly reaching new program heights each season, fans no doubt have become familiar with the way the Panthers win games.
A deep, talented roster, goes ground and pound, often running over teams early with younger players earning valuable experience along the way.
Not much has changed for the 2018 version of the Panthers. The No. 3 ranked team in Class 2A looks very much the part of a typical Phillipsburg club.
However, expect a few tweeks here and there, as personnel has changed a bit from recent seasons.
“Had to put in some new wrinkles from last year,” said Trey Sides, the Panthers fourth-year starter at quarterback. “Had to use our talent a little better or maybe a little different.
“We’re looking forward to this year.”
And for good reason.
Despite graduating a loaded senior class that included Kansas State University signee Kirk Coomes, the Panthers again look loaded to make a deep run in Class 2A.
“We look pretty decent,” said J.B. Covington, the Panthers’ 16th year head coach, whose program has been on a tear the last five seasons with a 53-8 record. “However, it’s kind of hard to tell going against your own guys. It’s just time to line it up and go play one.”
But just as in years past, Phillipsburg’s backups might be just as good as any team Phillipsburg faces on its regular-season schedule. Still, Phillipsburg remains humble, taking a page out of the book of its senior quarterback, an often understated element in the Panthers’ recent success.
Sides looks to become even more involved at the position this season, more often used the last two years to hand the ball off to Kirk Coomes or John Gower, or provide a key carry. He still managed 775 passing yards with 13 scores and five rushing TDs.
Covington said it’s possible that while Phillipsburg is a run-first team, his club will air it out a little bit this season. With quick receivers in Ty Sides, a sophomore, and junior Jake Sisson, the Panthers could look to some slants or quick outs and get them into space.
“We’ve been repping it over and over all summer,” said Trey Sides. “Getting more used to it. The coaches have put some good things together.”
The Panthers have also given the elder Sides the green light on scanning the defense, installing some pre-snap and post-snap options.
“He could make the decision on the fly,” Covington said.
The coach added they’ve tried to mimic — in a way — what Marysville and Hesston have done to them the past two seasons. Both of those teams ended the Panthers’ season a game short of where they wanted to be.
“We feel like the talent is there,” Covington said. “We just have to get guys in the right place and see what they can do.”
That’s not to say Phillipsburg is going to abandon the run. Senior Treylan Gross returns after amassing 1,105 yards and 17 rushing scores as a junior. He’ll be joined by Cha’Ron Ellis, a speedy senior.
Plus, if it were possible, Phillipsburg is bigger on the front end in 2018. Junior Noah VanKooten steps in at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds and Jaret Shelton is 5-10, 240. Kasen Keeten returns for a senior season at guard. The 5-11, 190 pounder was first-team MCL at the position a year ago.
To top it off, the Panthers have a 6-foot-5, 190-pound option at tight end in junior Austin Miller.
“We haven’t had that kind of size for a while, so right now they look really good,” Covington said.