No. 16 preview: Sean Crocker leads young Panther Creek football team

mblake@newsobserver.comAugust 3, 2012 

  • N&O preseason football rankings (2011 record) 1. Aug. 11 2. Aug. 11 3. Aug. 10 4. Aug. 10 5. Aug. 9 6. Aug. 9 7. Aug. 8 8. Aug. 8 9. Aug. 7 10. Aug. 7 11. Aug. 6 12. Aug. 6 13. Aug. 5 14. Aug. 5 15. Clayton; 5-7 16. Panther Creek; 8-4 17. Broughton; 5-6 18. Bunn; 9-4 19. Southern Durham; 7-4 20. Knightdale; 4-6

There’s a new look to Sean Crocker, a veteran Wake County high school football coach, as he gets settled into his new digs at Panther Creek.

After accepting the job, leaving Tri-Nine Conference foe Middle Creek after five seasons, Crocker’s had to be more hands-on and had to devote more time to planning and teaching players who aren’t familiar with his way of doing things.

The Catamounts’ new coach is rejuvenated by the changes.

“It can’t help but get the juices flowing again,” Crocker said. “I worked hard at Middle Creek to get things like I wanted it. I had everything kind of set up. It took about three years to get things tailored to the way I wanted it and we had – the last two years – things kind of on cruise control. Everyone knew where to go and knew what to do.”

Crocker didn’t need much of an introduction to the Panther Creek players.

After all, it was Middle Creek that knocked the Catamounts out of the first round of the 2011 4AA playoffs, avenging a regular-season Panther Creek victory. Crocker’s teams won at least a share of three conference titles, and went 5-1 against Panther Creek.

Talent isn’t a problem for the Catamounts, who are 26-13 over the last three seasons, but experience might be.

Only five or six seniors are expected to start. Almost every position on the team is up-for-grabs, including who will take the snaps out of Crocker’s trademark spread offense.

“We’ve got a lot of competition going on,” said Crocker, a UNC-Chapel Hill safety who was drafted as a defensive back by the the NFL's Buffalo Bills in 1994. “You have guys fighting for a spot, not only for this year but to get a foothold for a spot next year.”

Though Crocker’s teams were known for passing, the strength of this year’s unit will be its rushing offense.

The Catamounts’ top returning playmaker is senior David Mayaka, who ran for 1,492 yards and 17 touchdowns behind a strong offensive line that returns three starters in Mike Sutton (300 pounds), Chris Hartsfield (310 pounds) and James Northington.

Javontay Rhodes, a junior, will also get carries as will the team’s top two-way player Dorrel McClain.

“We’re going to see if those guys can run behind that,” “There’s no question that the strength of our offense is our offensive line. That’s where most of the experience on the team is.”

McClain, a junior, had 403 yards rushing – mostly out of a wildcat formation – plus 26 tackles and four interceptions.

“I can assure you, you’ll see more of him in the offense than you saw last year,” Crocker said.

McClain is also in the mix at quarterback, along with senior Vitu Chilongo and two rising players from the junior varsity.

Former Northern Durham head coach Anthony Sullivan takes over as defensive coordinator, where it may take a few games for his many newcomers to get settled.

“We do have some really good talent over there, they just don’t have a lot of varsity experience. It may take a couple of weeks for guys to get comfortable and up to game speed, which is unfortunate because we open with Leesville.” Only three starters return, but linebacker figures to be the one unit ahead of the rest, while the interior line needs the quickest fix.

Crocker’s track record at a conference rival has helped grab his team’s attention.

“I think everybody jumped on board pretty fast,” Crocker said. “It’s been a pretty smooth transition and I probably couldn’t ask for it to go any better.”

Blake: 919-460-2606 or twitter.com/JMBpreps

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