TRACY - Creativity is nothing new for the Tracy-Milroy-Balaton football team.
While most teams in the area have placed the forward pass in the use-sparingly file, the Panthers have embraced it. Most teams have a solo head coach, TMB has co-coaches.
Those coaches, Derek Flann and Randy McIntire, are stepping outside of the box once more to try and prepare the Panthers for a bounce-back season.
Photo by Travis Andries
Panther running back Alec Swan, left, engages Eric Donner (36) to open a hole for Zach Seaton in practice on Wednesday. Jake Kein, back left, and Parker Lanoue, back right, watch as the play unfolds.
After earning a share of the Little Sioux Conference title in the 2010 with an 8-2 record, the Panthers won just two games in 2011, finishing 2-7 on the year. Their third-ranked offense and second-ranked defense in the conference fell to seventh and ninth, respectively, in 2011.
Standing in the way of TMB and a return to the top of the conference is a serious shortage on bodies. The Panthers have just 32 players, grades 9-12, out for football in 2012. A half-dozen of those are missing camp this week due to participation in the state fair. With so few players, the Panthers have had a difficult time just finding ways to practice.
"It's tough to do a lot of contact stuff," Flann said. "I saw (Murray County Central's 'Day at Camp' story). They said they were laying down on the contact a little bit. We're kind of doing the same thing. We're just trying to get guys so we can practice and get reps everyday."
2011 Record: 2-7
Little Sioux Conference Finish: 8th (2-5)
27-6 loss to Maple River
(Section 3AA first round)
Points Allowed/Game: 38.6
RB Taylor Hoffbeck,
OL Brad Schmidt
QB Parker Lanoue,
RB Alec Swan
As to be expected, the Panthers have been experiencing depth issues as well.
"We're a little thin in a few spots. We've got some guys that are taking reps at three different positions at practice. They're a back-up at two different spots," Flann said.
The Panthers graduated 10 seniors from last year's squad, a majority of those coming from the trenches. Prior to the 2011 season, TMB was prepared to rely on its size on the line, but 2012 presents no such luxury. The coaching staff has been forced to get creative in filling these spots as well.
"Last year, we were probably 240 (pounds) on average up front," Flann said. "We've moved some kids. Austin Peterson was our starting fullback last year. He's moved to guard. He's at 185 pounds, he's a decent size for a high school lineman."
Peterson is not the only former skill position to move onto the line. The coaches have moved two other fullbacks from 2011 onto the line this year, as well as a tight end.
The diminished size has produced some positives for the Panthers. Rather than a plodding line that struggles in pass protection, TMB has more mobility, ideal for their pass-heavy offense.
"We're probably a little more athletic than we were last year. For our spread system, that's probably a little better," Flann said. "We have those guys that can get out and move around and pass block."
Two spots where the Panthers haven't been forced into reinventing the wheel are quarterback and running back. TMB returns Parker Lanoue and Alec Swan. Lanoue threw for 1,160 yards in 2011 and had 16 total touchdowns. Swan had 1,667 total yards and scored 17 times.
It is through these two that TMB hopes to get back to the top. And Lanoue knows it.
"We know a lot of people will look at last year and try and judge us and where we're going to be," Lanoue said. "And we're just going out to try and prove them wrong and show them that we can win football games."
The Panthers will get their first crack at redemption when they kick off the 2012 season against the Murray County Central Rebels on Aug. 30 in Tracy. In 2011, the two teams closed out the regular season, with the Rebels winning a 65-41 thriller.