Cuthbertson Defense Loaded With Returning Starters

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Young but experienced is the best way to describe the Cuthbertson defense heading into the 2017 high school football season.

Cuthbertson opens the 2017 football season August 18 at Porter Ridge and the Cavaliers defense will be an experienced unit. But the defense will still be manned by a host of underclassmen as the Cavaliers return eight players on that side of the football.

Like the offense, the defense came into its own late in the season as Cuthbertson ended the 2016 regular season on a three-game winning streak. Cuthbertson (6-6, 3-2 Southern Carolina Conference) ended the season with a heart-breaking 31-28 loss to South Iredell in the first round of the playoffs.

“We had so may freshmen and sophomores that had to play last year because of injuries and other things,” Coach Johnson said. “So, we return almost the whole defense, but it is a young defense. We are a young team that I think has a chance. But we are going to have to work hard.”

The biggest concern for the defense is inexperience on the defensive front. Senior defensive lineman Carter Kendall (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) and defensive lineman senior Bryce Blackwood (6-0, 255) will anchor the defensive front. Blackwood was a starter on the offensive line as a sophomore and junior.

“We play a phenomenal schedule, and if we can get through our growing pains, we should be ready to go,” Johnson said. “Kendall is a three-year starter and we are looking for big things from him.

Other key defensive players include junior defensive backs Chris Panko (6-0, 170) and Jayden Jennings (5-11, 170) and strong safety/outside linebacker junior Josh Sepe (6-3, 195). Sepe earned all-conference honors last season while Jennings led the team in interceptions.

“We are going to have quite a few players going both ways, which is different than what we have had in the past,” Johnson said. “That will give us the best chance to win. Josh is a big kid that makes a lot of plays. Josh led the team in tackles last year.

“Last year, going into the season we didn’t know if Jayden was going to be jayvee or varsity. He worked his tail off and started the whole season for us at corner. Jayden reads the ball well and he runs our scheme like we want it.”

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Paul Nielsen
Nielsen was a sports writer for what is now the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for nearly 32 years before moving to North Carolina in February 2016. At the Democrat-Gazette, Nielsen's primary responsibility was beat coverage for Rogers High School. Rogers is a Class 7A school located in Northwest Arkansas.
Nielsen, a University of Arkansas graduate, covered the Northwest Arkansas Naturals Minor League Baseball team from 2008-2015. The Naturals are the Double-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals.
Nielsen has experience covering University of Arkansas athletics, including NCAA Tournament basketball games and several football bowl games. He also covered amateur and professional golf tournaments in Northwest Arkansas.
Nielsen lives in Matthews with his wife, Susan. He can be reached at