HATTIESBURG, MS - One would think the narrative surrounding the 2016 Petal Panthers begins with the word redemption. After losing in the MHSAA State Championship to Starkville last season, Petal opens the 2016 slate on the road against Hattiesburg High.
Petal head coach Marcus Boyles remembers that Hattiesburg beat his Panthers 18-13 at home to open 2015, but he says that fact doesn't bear any extra motivation for Petal in Saturday's contest.
"We really don't talk about revenge," Boyles said. "We talk about winning that first game, being 1-0. And we know it's a rivalry game but at the same time it's one game in the schedule of eleven."
Any team would rather open its season at home, but Boyles is confident in the poise of his twelve returning starters, referencing senior defensive end Kane Roberts and senior running back Stephon Huderson as veteran leaders.
The Panther offense will flow through Huderson, who's coming off of a 2,031-yard rushing season.
But many will be watching how senior Tanner Estill handles his first game as the starting Petal quarterback. After spending his past two seasons as a wide receiver, Estill has quite the first test against Hattiesburg on the road.
"Tanner's had a great offseason," Boyles said. "There's been some struggles along the line because he's played receiver the last two years, hasn't played quarterback. But he's getting better every practice and of course, Julian Wilson, our backup has looked really sharp also. So we feel good in both those guys."
Boyles knows his Petal Panthers have their hands full on Saturday facing Hattiesburg playmakers like quarterback Julian Conner and running back Fabian Franklin.
And even though USA Today ranks Petal No. 22 in its Super 25 preseason poll, Boyles knows none of that matters once the football kicks off Saturday night.
"You'd like to start off a little easier than Hattiesburg," Boyles said. "But it is what it is and we'll know a lot about our team after Saturday night where we stand."