As I look back at the 2011 season, I cannot help but be impressed with where the football program is. After several years of mediocrity, ( the last five years, Ferrum was 23-26) with 2005 being the last time the Panthers won the conference championship, Ferrum was one win away from it this year.
In his first year, Coach Harper must feel very satisfied to have been in a position to contend for the conference championship. To end the season at 7-3 is a great first step. Now as is the norm, Coach Harper must look to the future and see what obstacles he will face in the off season, and in preparing for the 2012 season.
Of primary concern must be filling the holes left by departing Seniors. By my count, the offensive line, and the offensive backfield will be hardest hit. The loss of Jack McDowell, and Michael Walker will cause Coach Harper and Coach Isernia some concern, but by the looks of the current roster, there is a lot of depth on the offensive line.
The backfield will lose Marcus Mayo, Steven Harris, Justin Donnelly, and Corey Smith. These are huge losses, but as for running backs, Ferrum is very deep. The loss of Mayo will cause a substantial amount of concern, but the ability of back up quarterback Tim Reynolds should ease the worries. Reynolds appeared in eight games, and ran the ball nine times. On these carries, Reynolds averaged over 11 yards per carry. In the passing department, Reynolds threw only twice, and completed one of those. While his in game experience may be somewhat slight, I look for Reynolds to display a strong athletic talent, and while there will be a learning curve, Ferrum should be solid at this position.
On the defensive side of the ball, Ferrum will lose Defensive Back Delano Hall, and Linebacker Tremaine Whitney. These losses will leave Ferrum with two productive players to replace. Whitney was the third leading tackler for the Panthers with a total of 65 tackles, and Hall was not far behind with 56 tackles on the year.
Overall Ferrum will not lose that many players. This is good news, and on the surface, I think Ferrum will be really strong next year. So why is there such a turnaround from 4-6 to 7-3? I have to give the credit to Harper and the rest of the Panthers coaching staff.
I think that the staff has done an excellent job in their first year of recruiting, and has had great success in amassing talent. This success in recruiting is something that must continue, and become a consistent element of the team building process. Beyond recruiting, I see another reason for the change is the approach that Harper has taken with the players. He is emphasizing many things other than football. His goal, as it appears to me is to develop the entire student athlete. To develop their athletic skills is a given, but Harper's interest in his players is to show them the importance of being a quality person, Being a responsible student, and being able to give back to their community. Football is such a unique mirror of life.....learning to overcome obstacles to achieve the best possible outcome, while protecting what is important to you. Harper and his staff are developing young men who will excel on the football field, and in life.
Getting back to the outlook for the 2012 season, I think Ferrum will be as good if not better than this year. For Ferrum, the ascent to a conference championship is a process, a process that will take time, time to continue amassing talent, time to shape that talent into bigger, faster and stronger athletes and time to teach their system to the players....a system that will make them winners, both on and off the field.