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Under pressure; Panther football handling challenges, looking for success in light of tragedy

Powell High School interim head coach Chanler Buck speaks to his players following practice Wednesday at Powell High School. Powell High School interim head coach Chanler Buck speaks to his players following practice Wednesday at Powell High School. Tribune photo by Joe Alberico

Pressure.

Whether it’s to win, stay composed or just survive the season, the Powell High School football program is going to feel pressure for the entirety of the 2014 campaign.

Three straight Class 3A state championships and a string of 27 regular season victories will have that effect on a team. As would the sudden death of an 11-year head coach.

If losing a plethora of talent from last fall’s undefeated state title team wasn’t enough, the sudden passing of coach Jim Stringer in mid-July has left Panther football in an unexpected state of transition.

In charge of keeping things together will be interim coach Chanler Buck, who spent three seasons coaching eighth-grade football at Powell Middle School while also volunteering under Stringer. Buck is now attempting to introduce his players to his brand of football while also keeping intact the values and traditions of success put in place by their late coach.

Pressure.

“The most comforting thing was having the community’s support and approval, and the kids’ support after talking to them and then the coaching staff’s support,” Buck said. “After having those three things, the weight has been lifted.

“Now, tremendous shoes to fill here obviously, and I don’t want to say there’s overwhelming pressure, but there is a little sense of that here and I’m sure it will progress as we get into the meat of the season.”

Possibly making the situation tougher for Buck is the label of ‘interim.’ Given the unfortunate nature in which he was promoted to the helm this year, winning football games could be a tall task. At the end of the season, results on the field may have an impact on where Powell football’s future lies.

But Buck insists on keeping the focus on the present.

“[Next year] has certainly crossed my mind, but I can’t worry about that right now when there’s a job for myself and our players to do over the next several months,” Buck added. “If I worry about all of that right now, and what people are saying or thinking, it’s only going to slow me down as a coach and hurt the program.”

Ultimately, the present and future of the program rests on its players. And what Buck and his coaching staff have lucked out on is a roster of players who appear both empathetic and driven.

Just ask Stringer’s son, senior offensive/defensive lineman Riley Stringer.

“We know that coach Buck wanted to be a head coach someday, but we also know he didn’t want it to happen like this,” Stringer said. “With the way our program has been built over the last few seasons, with the success we’ve had, the team knows that he’s got a lot on his shoulders.

“But so do we as a team,” he said. “And we have to help coach Buck as much as he has to help us.”

Pressure.

Senior Carter Baxter, who will serve as starting quarterback for the first time this year, sees the dire circumstances as a way for the team to grow closer.

“I think if anything, the passing of coach Stringer is just a team builder,” Baxter said. “Everybody who becomes something great has to face adversity at one point or another. And what we’re dealing with right now, I don’t think there’s a greater motive.”

Powell Athletic Director Tim Wormald, who played a role in the promotion of Buck, gets it. No matter who stepped up to take over Panther football, the conditions would be rough.

“I think Chanler is going to put enough pressure on himself,” Wormald said. “Myself included, we’re here to support coach Buck all the way. Somebody in the community may have a higher expectation of winning and losing than I do, but we’re going to look at how he advances the program as a whole.”

And with that comes Buck’s ability to make this season matter. Near the end of a long day of practice Tuesday, Buck spoke to his players, asking them to come up with a slogan to define their season and to make it a positive one.

Pressure.

“With everything that’s going on, these kids need something to play for, they need an identity that is going to represent their season,” Buck said. “I think all of these kids are motivated, I’m definitely motivated and I’m looking to see how these kids respond to the challenges put in front of them over the course of the season.

“Heck, I’m eager to see how I respond.”

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