Despite going 1-10 a year ago, the Kentucky Wesleyan College Panthers ended the season on a high note with a victory. As KWC head coach Craig Yeast enters his second year at the helm, he said his squad is trending upward.
While it’s currently a waiting game to see if the season will start on time or even at all, Yeast and his team are still pushing forward.
“We’ve prepped for every situation,” he said. “We’re prepared if we start on time, we have a plan ready to go in action if they push our season back to start later in the fall. We have a plan of action if something were to happen and they move it all the way back to the spring. Our program, we’re prepared either way. That’s what we do.”
For college athletics, the work never really stops, and for football it’s what’s done behind the scenes — oftentimes in spring ball — that yields the best results come fall.
Yeast said the Panthers were on a roll before everything changed.
“I thought we had a tremendous offseason and it’s unfortunate because of COVID-19 that our spring ball got cut short,” he said. “I feel good about the young men that we have brought into our program. I feel like we’ve upgraded the talent level in the classroom and on the field. I’m just hoping that we go and we put a much better product on the field than what we did last year.
“(We) have a great coaching staff and just a really good group of young men that are willing to work hard, even throughout this whole process. We stay in constant contact with them and I say 95% of them are working their tails off to be prepared for the fall. I’m very optimistic, I feel really good about where we are. We just want to get back to whatever our new normal is going to be.”
While the record wasn’t where Yeast or his players wanted it to be last season, some context is important.
The Panthers travel squad consisted of just four seniors, 10-12 juniors, 12-15 sophomores and 20-26 freshmen.
“We were young, we were inexperienced and just didn’t understand at this level what it really takes to win, but the beauty of it is — we stressed all year — we have to be 1-0,” he said. “How do we get to 1-0? Our players never quit, they never gave up. Our coaches continued to work hard and develop our young men. We won that last game, and it took us 10 games to get to the point we understood how hard it was to win and we finally got over that hump.
Yeast said that was good for the going into the off season.
“That was something to get to taste of winning in our mouths and something we could continue to harp on in the offseason about what we’re expecting and how hard you have to work,” he said. “I think our young men get it and I thought we’re going to be better for it. Sometimes you’ve got to take lumps to get better and last year was one of those years where we took a lot of lumps and we had a lot for young guys that took those lumps.”
KWC returns its second-leading rusher from a year ago in Jatorian Dillard, as he ran for 264 yards and a score. The Panthers also bring back Daviess County High School standout Landon Newman, who ran for 233 yards and a touchdown.
Quarterback Wiley Cain along with two of KWC’s top receivers return, including Apollo High School’s Peyton Peters.
Yeast said his squad grew up as the year went on.
For the Panthers to be successful this season, Yeast said they have to work on and off the field.
“We need to be consistent,” he said. “We need to prepare ourselves well every week. We need to go out and execute our gameplan and we need to be the team that when the whistle blows to start, we’ve got to be the most excited and the hardest-working team. When the whistle blows for the game to be over, hopefully that leads to wins on a consistent basis. That’s what we’re going for.”
As the schedule stands now, the Panthers open the season Sept. 3 against Shorter University.