BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Birmingham-Southern College football is ready to begin its era of relentlessly pursuing excellence under new head coach Tony Joe White. The Panthers are primed for a fresh start with 78 newcomers to complement their core of returners. The mantra of RPE is fundamental to BSC's success this coming season.
"RPE, relentlessly pursuing excellence," White explained. "Relentlessly is never ceasing, never giving up. Pursuing is the process in which we are going to obtain a standard of perfection, which is excellence. That does not apply to just football. It's the way we treat other people, the way we handle ourselves in the classroom, how we do everything. It has to become an instinctive way of life."
White has brought in some new coaches to help him turn the Panthers around. Offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Anthony Colucci, and defensive coordinator and linebackers coach John Perin are new to the Panthers sidelines. They join recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Wil Trulove, defensive backs coach Cameron O'Neal, and strength and conditioning coordinator and wide receivers coach Cody Pearcy on staff.
BSC returns six of its offensive starters. Headlined by Southern Athletic Association all-conference wide receiver Jamal Watkins, the Panthers also return starters Kerrigan Pennington and Reid Pyburn. Watkins and Pennington, led the team in all-purpose yards last season. As the starting quarterback, Pennington recorded over 1,200 yards in the air and over 880 rushing to lead the team in both categories. His ground success was due in part to Pyburn, Spencer Scofield and the rest of the offensive line.
"Jamal has incredible speed and played a lot of minutes," said White. "Kerrigan has game experience and should be more poised a little more comfortable."
"Woolfolk and Jackson have both shown extraordinary speed," White added. "Should be fun to see them run behind the offensive line."
Included in the five returning defensive starters are Scott Burchfield, Ivan Villageois, and Cole Murphy. All-conference selections, Murphy and Villageois are expected to provide athleticism and leadership this coming season. Also returning for the defense are Mitchell Milovich and Sy Butler.
"Very aggressive, very physical football players," said White of the group. "They have a lot of experience and have shown a really good knack for picking up on new terminology and new schemes we've installed."
Special Teams Returners
Watkins used his speed last year to become the SAA Special Teams Player of the Year and is expected to continue his dominance in the return game. He and four others return from last year's special teams core including kickers Ryder Andrews and Hayden Terral, and long snapper Trent Rigby.
"Ryder and Hayden will battle for kicking duties," White said. "It's going to be nice to have a young man like Trent to provide the long snapping chores."
With such a large inaugural class, there are many positions that will be competitive this season. Offensively, Wells Smith, Hunter Kountz, Chandler Hood, Chris Farrell, Billy Swanson, and Atchison Hubbard are expected to contribute immediately.
"We have three talented tight ends coming in and that will ensure our versatility to continue our offense for the foreseeable future," White said. "Chandler is an intelligent, aggressive center; Kountz brings a hard-nosed, rugged disposition, and winning attitude; and Wells is a tall, fast, big receiver that has the ability to make plays from anywhere on the field."
"Kobe is one of the more athletic linebackers I've seen," said White. "And Wes is a defensive back that has the ability to play both corner and safety and give us versatility."
"Noah is a big outside linebacker that is a run stopping force you like to have," White added. "Markel and Markes are big, strong, athletic, tenacious, defensive lineman."
The Panthers open the 2017 season on the road at LaGrange College (Sept. 2) before coming home against Huntingdon College on September 9 in their only night game of the season. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. BSC will also host Trinity (Tex.) on September 30, Sewanee (Oct. 14) for their homecoming game, Berry (Oct. 28), and Millsaps (Nov. 4) for senior day.
When asked which games will be the biggest of the year, White replied "the game that week. We are trying to go 1-0 every week. I'll never talk about a game before another game."