By Zack Huffman
Last season, Forest Park returned to the football field with a new head coach and a staggering 25-game winless streak still intact.
The Panthers did away with the streak with a 24-17 victory over Mundy's Mill in the first game of the season.
The team may no longer be entrapped by the shadow of a streak that reached three seasons, but head coach Rod Perrymond knows there is still much work to be done.
"In order to compete in the region we're going to have be strong and fast," he said. "Because we play a lot of solid football teams."
Perrymond's quest to restore Forest Park to its early 90s, Hines Ward-era greatness is one that began last season when Ward, himself, donated the money to build a new weight room for the Panthers.
Ward, who began his career at Forest Park, played college football at Georgia and is now an active member of the Steelers, having earned Super Bowl MVP honors in the 2005 season.
According to Perrymond, much of the work that will make the Panthers competitive again will start in that room.
"You've got to spend some time in the weight room to see some results. It won't just happen over night," said Perrymond. "When you've got kids lifting weight all year long, you'll see the results."
Perrymond has already noticed some of the physical benefits that his team has gained from the weight room.
"Because we've had a year under our belts to lift weights, we're a lot faster and a lot stronger than we were last year," he said. "We now have the resources to get in here and lift weights. I've seen a difference in the spring training."
Perrymond is counting on the Panthers' improved physical acumen to repair some of the psychological damage that going 11-68-1 in the last eight seasons has left on the program.
"It's one thing to win, but if you haven't seen winning it's hard for the kids to buy into what you're trying to do," he said. "Once they see that they're stronger than they used to be, it builds up their confidence. You can build up a lot of confidence in the weight room alone."
Forest Park gave eight starters up to graduation, including quarterback Regginald Lewis, receivers Maurice Simpson and Elijah McDaniel, lineman Darran Sexton, kicker Alexjandro Perez, and linebackers Chris Malone, Victor Harris and Mike Wilson.
Next year's incarnation of the Panthers will be a younger team, with just five returning seniors.
Seniors Jerrell Lacroix and Darren Hollamen will hold down the offensive line, while Linebacker Deangelo Heard commands the defense. Heard will be backed up by defensive end/tight end Jamarco Clark and strong safety/ fullback Regginald Williams in terms of seniors leadership.
According to Perrymond, several juniors will be in key positions.
Austin Smith will start at quarterback when he returns next season as a junior.
David Pease, who acts as a tackle on either side of the ball, will join linebacker Tyrone Davis, offensive tackle Dennis Parker and receiver Dominique Webb to represent the juniors on the team.
Sophomores Achielles Jackson and Jadirus West will also play key roles as linebacker and tailback, respectively.
All in all, Perrymond is hoping he has the right pieces to extend the improvement of last season to 2009.
"One thing I want to do is make a name for ourselves in Clayton County. Earn some respect from our neighboring schools," he said. "My goal next year is to win enough games to go to the play offs. I'm shooting for the stars next year, we have nothing to lose."