New Forest Park football coach John Diehl has the Panthers looking the part this season after an intense offseason weight training program. (Photo by Derrick Mahone)
FOREST PARK — If football victories were given out simply by passing the proverbial eye test, Forest Park might be good for a few more W’s than usual this season.
When it was their time up front during last week’s Clayton County football media day, the Panthers, clearly looked more athletic under new coach John Diehl, than in years past. And that, according to Diehl, was done intentionally and by design.
“If you know anything about the old Nebraska [college football] teams, we try to emulate their strength and conditioning program as closely as possible,” Diehl said. “We’re sitting in a very good place right now. We’re bigger, faster and stronger. We’ve got about 18 returning seniors. We’ve got guys in the weight room who are lifting in the 1,000 pound club. And with that strength comes confidence. These guys are starting to believe in themselves.”
No need to recall the Panthers’ recent past. Their futility post-Bob Smith - the last coach to lead Forest Park to a winning season back in 2000 - has been well documented. Diehl knows he has quite a climb to get Forest Park to its former winning ways.
But he’s also got a decent compliment of talent returning, including a two-quarterback system of Kyle Bailey and Carlisle Dowdell. The seniors are hoping to combine their abilities to add some potency to a Panthers rushing attack that should be much improved in a more simplified offense.
“I’m excited about what we can do with this offense this year,” Dowdell said. “We’ve got a lot more speed in places that people may not think. And with Kyle and I, we compliment each other even while we compete. That will make us better.”
It’s that fusion of complimenting and competition that Dowdell and Bailey believe will help their team rise above where they’ve been.
It’s also cause for excitement for linebacker/fullback Brandon Williams - arguably the Panthers’ best player. During media day, Williams said he liked how his more stout looking Forest Park players stacked up against the other teams in the county.
“I’m fired up seeing these other teams out here, some of whom we’ll be playing against,” Williams said. “Other teams have some big boys and some fast guys, but we feel like we’ve been preparing well and we look like we’ve gotten better, so we’re not too much worried about what other teams may have.”
Bailey said the Panthers are much more sound this year.
“We’re more disciplined,” he said. “With the way we run our offense in multiple formations. The way we pay more attention to the details of the game. More players have become more consistent. It’s just a much more disciplined team.”
And though Dowdell stopped short of making any brash predictions of success, he said that people shouldn’t be surprised when they see a different product on the field this season than what they’ve been used to.
“We believe in the fact that all this work we’ve been doing is going to show up on the field,” Dowdell said. “People are going to start seeing us winning some games and showing what we know we can do now.”