HARROGATE, Tenn. — Cumberland Gap hosted a day of 7-on-7 scrimmages Thursday evening and drew several teams in from the surrounding area. Schools joining the Panthers included Claiborne, Grainger and Jellico from Tennessee along with Middlesboro and Whitley County from Kentucky.
They hosted a similar day late last week and it provides an opportunity for the teams to test themselves against a wide variety of competition.
“It’s a great thing for us,” Panther head coach Corey Russell said. “Our area is different from a lot of other places. Around Knoxville or in the northern Kentucky and Lexington areas there are a lot of schools that are close together and they do things like this all summer. They can have days like this more often because it might only be a ten minute ride as opposed to 45 minutes or an hour like some of these schools had to do.
“It’s something I wanted to start this year and we want to do it every year. Just have a couple of days where a lot of teams can get work in and see a lot of different looks. I thought it was phenomenal and went really well.”
While the skill position players rotated among three different 40-yard playing fields (two in the Panthers’ stadium and one on their practice field) the linemen held a separate clinic on the opposite end of the practice field where they could work on hand and footwork techniques against each other.
On the field the Panthers are breaking in a number of new players in the skill positions. Sophomore quarterback Ethan Ellison, who will be the starter this season, was away on a family vacation. Senior running back Devon Helton filled in at QB on Thursday and kept the offense moving throughout the scrimmages.
“Devon did a good job. Ethan is gone to the beach right now and I hate that he had to miss this — it’s not something that we can replicate in practice. But Devon stepped in there and made some good throws,” Russell said. “He’s a senior that’s been with us for a long time and he had no problems with hit. He does what we ask him to do and that’s all you can ask.”
Many of the young Panthers made plays. Some of the more successful ones were came from inside receivers and backs working over the middle. Christian Crowder and Ryker Gent both caught touchdown passes and receiver Bryce Rogers got free on a couple of deep balls. Sam Gulley was effective working on underneath routes. He, Rogers and safety Andrew Dishner were strong most of the day in coverage with Dishner contributing at least one interception.
“We got our defensive coordinator (Jerton Evans) in last week and we’ve just been hitting the ground running,” Russell said. “We got a lot of reps in and made some mistakes we can learn from. I thought our effort was phenomenal and the mental focus was good.
“They are lacking in experience but they have worked their tails off in the off-season to get stronger and faster and they’ve done a great job from spring practice on. It’s just a matter of taking those reps every day.”
For Middlesboro it was their third straight day of extensive 7-on-7 work. They went to Corbin on Tuesday and were at Union College on Wednesday.
“We’re learning our routes and we’re learning our offense better we just have to get consistent with it,” Yellow Jacket coach Zach Massengill said. “We’re still lacking a little conditioning and we lose focus a little bit when we get tired. But in the last three days of work we’ve seen a lot of positives. We’re catching the ball much better.”
MHS also took the opportunity to play their freshmen together as a group in few of their scrimmage sessions with either senior quarterback Tyler Yoakum or Major Edwards passing to them. (Freshman QB Chase Elliott was away from the team on Thursday).
A couple of the young standouts included Corey Harriston and Michael Carroll.
“Corey is a freshman who is going to help us out maybe even on the varsity by the end of the year. Michael, today was his first day with us since the spring and I thought he did a real good job going full speed not knowing 100-percent of everything that we were doing. They’ve both got quite a bit of athletic ability.”
As far as the varsity starters the usual suspects performed well for Jackets. Both Edwards and Yoakum had success moving the offense. Brock was turning short catches into big gains with his ability to make defenders miss even in game of touch football. Ryan Pittman and Seth Barton both had a couple of touchdown catches working in the slot. Hayden Burnside, Parker Evans, Logan Capps, Jesse Hoskins and Tanner Hoskins were the primary targets. Brock and Burnside both came up with interceptions in a tough scrimmage against Whitley County.
Up next the teams will begin two-a-days next week and start gearing up for camp and working out in pads as they continue to prepare for the start of the season.