Panthers pin hopes to switch to spread offense


Following a 2011 season in which it won three games and averaged 15.8 points, the Linden-McKinley High School football team believed it finally was starting to make some headway offensively.

The Panthers never saw the progress they were looking for a year ago, however, and instead finished 1-9 overall and 0-7 in the City-North.

After being held under 10 points in all but three games, Linden is bringing back a similar spread offensive scheme but hoping for better results because of its athleticism.

Junior James Williams (5-foot-7, 160 pounds) is a slot receiver who has run the 40 in 4.5 seconds, and junior Nick Battle (6-2, 200) is back at running back after making first-team all-league last season.

"We're going to run the spread," coach Aaron Owens said.

"That's what I ran at West and we had some success there. James Williams is just a real athlete and Nick Battle made first-team all-City last year. We're trying to get better."

Owens has been using some version of the spread well before he took over at Linden in 2009. When Owens was running the offense while at Columbus West from 2003-05, the Cowboys went 11-19 including a 6-4 record in 2004 when they averaged 25 points.

Karl Sharp, a former running back and 1988 Whetstone graduate, is in his second season as an offensive assistant.

Linden posted its only win last season when it opened by beating Africentric 36-14. It will begin this season Friday, Aug. 30, against the Nubians on the road.

Junior Wanya Glenn is at quarterback, with senior Kendal Lockett, a Beechcroft transfer, as the backup. Lockett also will see action at wide receiver.

Senior Davounte Cox is back at wide receiver, and juniors Marquise Mann and George Reid also are at the position. Junior Hasan Vance (6-6, 200) is the tight end.

On the offensive line, the Panthers will feature seniors Josh Spelhaug (6-3, 285) and Damon Green (5-11, 250) and junior Jeff Schwalbauch (6-6, 320).

According to Owens, Williams was named the outstanding player at an offseason camp in Cleveland.

"It's coming together well," Williams said. "We're running the spread offense and it's going to be more up tempo than it was last year. We're picking our speed up. We've got a quicker defense and just a quicker team, period."

Schwalbauch -- who has a 4.2 grade-point average, according to Owens -- also should join Spelhaug and Green as fixtures on the defensive line along with Vance.

Senior Dymanic Johnson (6-1, 220) is at outside linebacker and on the defensive line. He sat out last season after transferring from Columbus East.

Williams, Reid and senior Kavon Edwards will play in the secondary.

Since finishing 6-4 in 2001, Linden has gone 4-6 three times but is just 26-83 overall.

The Panthers are 8-32 in four seasons under Owens.

Another assistant working to turn the program around is 1995 Walnut Ridge graduate Eric Smith, who was a defensive tackle for Ohio State in the late 1990s and is helping to call the defense.

Linden was in Division III, Region 10 a year ago but has moved down to Division IV, Region 13 after the OHSAA's expansion to seven divisions.

Last season, 2013 graduate Kijuan Busby was honorable mention all-district at quarterback and classmates Dashawn Willis (LB) and Rashawn Willis (RB/LB) were special mention all-district.

"We've all been practicing really well," said Battle, who was the boys basketball team's leading scorer and rebounder and threw the shot put 46 feet in track and field as a sophomore. "We just want to have a better season."