By Les Dixon / Sports Editor
If you want to go and see a match-up between two of the better teams in the mountains, go no further than today’s SEKC Grid-O-Rama match-up between Knox Central and Harlan County.
It might only be a scrimmage, but you can expect both teams to be ready to play when the game is scheduled to kick-off around 8 p.m.
“Our kids are ready for this,” Knox Central coach Scott Russell said. “The big thing is to get our kids playing in a game situation. I know we’re excited to get the season started.”
The Panthers will be going against a Black Bear squad that many consider one of the top teams in Class 5A this season.
Even though Harlan County graduated the likes of John Middleton, who led the team with 2,141 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns last season, Tom Larkey’s squad returns another solid nucleus of talent.
Cole Wilson, Treyvon Long, Zach Chitwood, Carson Whitehead and Scotty Bailey will be the go-to guys on both offense and defense this season for Harlan County.
Bailey (227 rushing yards and 211 passing yards), Long (766 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns), Whitehead (333 rushing yards and seven touchdowns) and Chitwood (120 rushing yards) are set to replace Middleton while Long (13 receptions, 258 receiving yards) and Wilson (16 receptions and 232 receiving yards) are the Black Bears main receiving threats.
On defense, Whitehead is one of the state's best players, leading the team with 191 tackles and five interceptions last season while Long had four interceptions and 59 tackles.
“They are a very good team,” Russell said. “We know we’re going to have our hands full, but we also know we have a very good team, too.”
With that said, Russell doesn’t expect either team to show much on offense or defense during today’s scrimmage with both teams facing-off against each other on Sept. 13 at Harlan County in regular-season play.
“I don’t expect either of us to show a lot,” Russell admitted. “I think it will be a good test for our quarterback (Casey Diamond). He’ll be in front of a big crowd and he’ll be able to work on growing and playing in a situation like that.
“I think it’s key for him to see some things like he’ll see in this scrimmage,” he added. “Especially with the opportunity to go up against a team like Harlan County, it will be good for him.”
Russell said the scrimmage will be a good measuring stick for some players that are vying for playing time.
“We will get to evaluate some guys and the biggest thing is we’ll be able to look at some other kids at the receiving and defensive back positions,” he said. “This will be a good opportunity for us.”