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Central Coach Likes Early Reception

Jordan Pratt will be only one of many targets for the Panthers' quarterback.

INDEPENDENCE -- Central has just begun fine-tuning its program for the upcoming 2001 high school football season.

But Panthers head coach Shane Hedrick already is plenty pleased with the team's reception.

"I think things went really well," the third-year Central head coach said following his team's five-day camp June 11-15. "I was really pleased with the different elements of the offense and defense we were able to put in in five days.

"The kids we're counting on to perform this year stepped up to the level we'd hoped they would. Our offensive line really jelled for the first week. I was pleased with that. I was especially pleased with our receiver corps."

Jordan Pratt was Central's top receiver as a sophomore last season despite limited football experience. He was operating virtually on sheer athletic talent, which he has in abundance.

With a full year's experience under his belt, Pratt could have a much bigger impact in the 2001 season. Hedrick said he had "an unbelievable camp."

But the 6-foot-2 Pratt also should have plenty of help on the flanks of the Panthers' attack. Hedrick also marveled at the camp work of 6-foot-2 Ryan Sims, 6-foot-6 Jason Marshall and 6-foot-2 Andrew Stockner.

"They're all great athletes," Hedrick said. "They all adapted really well to the football field in terms of being physical. That will only enhance their ability as receivers.

(With four receivers 6-foot-2 or taller, the Panthers should be in good shape if a basketball game breaks out, as well.)

Hedrick also lauded the efforts of Joe Soukap, who played two years ago as a sophomore but skipped football last season. He could be a factor at tight end and inside linebacker.

Fullback Matt Neiffer and running back Mike Connor, both starters last season, also had good camps.

"They stepped up from where they were last year," Hedrick said of his two backs. "I was pleased with the level there were at last year, but I'm even more pleased after camp."

Josh Brandt perhaps solidified his hold on the starting quarterback position. Brandt, also a starter at inside linebacker, backed up quarterback Josh Pairan last season. Brandt, in fact, was on the field at quarterback when the Panthers' 2000 season came to an end in the state quarterfinals against Pleasant Hill.

"He threw the ball with a lot more accuracy than he had before," Hedrick said. "He has a real strong arm, but we wanted to see where his accuracy was. As the camp progressed, so did his accuracy hitting receivers."

Several relative newcomers on the defensive side also caught the coach's eye, including lineman Jared Watson, outside linebackers Cody Crockett and John Wallin and inside linebacker Zach Taylor.

The 6-foot-4 Watson has added about 15 pounds and now weighs in at about 245 pounds. Taylor, who played sparingly last season, might be asked to fill the shoes of departed Jeff Charleston, the Capital Conference defensive MVP.

"He's real hard-nosed, and he always gives 100 percent," Hedrick said of Taylor. We're pleased with how he stepped up."

The Panthers, of course, still are far from a finished product. Central will have a second camp starting Aug. 13 and will begin regular workouts for the 2001 season Aug. 20.

Hedrick also hopes to see his players regularly this summer in the school's weight room. The facility will be open Monday-Thursday starting at 7:30 p.m. and Friday-Saturday starting at 10 a.m.

"We're still going to need to work on the development of our linebackers and secondary," Hedrick said. "The secondary is something we really need to focus on. We need to find some people who can step up and make some plays back there. We have some people returning, but they're people that play offense, too. We'd certainly like to have some people to spell them."

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