They get to the ball.
And they hit you.
They hit hard.
The Pikeville linebacking corps is as good as any linebacking corps in Eastern Kentucky.
One of the leaders of the defense is senior Connor Wright.
Wright had a tremendous junior season which saw the Panthers advance to the Class A state championship game.
Wright finished the season with 60 total tackles, two sacks and he forced a fumble.
The Panthers came up just short to Beechwood last year, though falling 21-20 in the title game.
This year, Wright and the rest of the linebackers are back.
“We’re all ready to come back this season because we’re hungry for the title,” Wright said. “Of course, we’re trying to get back there this year. It means a lot to us because we came up short last year by one point. I think it shows in practice this year. Everybody is ready to get it. We’re all focused and determined.”
Besides Wright, Jon Collum and Brody Birchfield also return as linebackers for the Panthers.
“We’ve (the Panther linebackers) all been here since freshman year,” Wright said. “We’ve all been under coach Sully (defensive coordinator Paul Sullivan) since freshman year. The trust with each other shows because there is nothing that we don’t know about this defense. It’s all second nature. We all trust each other. We know, OK if we miss this, the guy right beside of us has our back.”
Wright is one of the leaders on this year’s team. He’s helping the younger players step up and fill new roles.
“We’ve got plenty of young guys ready to step up,” Wright said. “There are a lot of gaps to fill because we lost 12 seniors, but I think we’ll come back firing just the way we left off last year.”
Pikeville’s defense is full of playmakers and they get after it, but knowing the offense is so talented, gives the Panthers a little relief if they happen to give up a score or two.
“Obviously, it helps to have great offense behind your back as a defense,” Wright said. “It takes a little weight off of the defense’s shoulders. I know if we mess up and maybe give up a touchdown, having a good offense helps know they can score. We’ve got the best receiving corps in the state right now, I think. Backing them up, we have Isaac McNamee throwing the ball and Cody Raines in the backfield, Seth (Pugh), Jackson (Hensley) Clay (Tinsley) and Zach Lockhart, I mean I don’t think there’s much for other teams to do to stop them.”
Every year, the Panthers have their eyes set on a state title, but they know they have a lot of work in front of them in the regular season.
“Like coach (Chris) McNamee always says, ‘We’re just going to take it one game at a time,’” Wright said. “We don’t overlook anybody, we treat each game like it’s our last game that we’ll ever play.”
Pikeville will kickoff the season Saturday, August 24 at home at 6:00 p.m. against Bardstown.
The Panthers will follow by hosting Mingo Central Saturday, August 31 at 8:30 p.m. in the final game of the 35th Annual Community Trust Bank/WYMT Pike County Bowl.