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White, Wiley return at linebacker for Panthers

by | Aug 3, 2023 | Sports

Princeton High School graduated two of its better defensive players from the linebacker position last season, leaving a void for 2023.

One of those players was Billy Sanchez, the starting outside linebacker and team leader last year. With Sanchez out of the mix this season, coach Ervin Chandler understands that other position groups will be asked to pick up the slack in 2023.

“The way we work our defense, the defensive line is probably going to be our strength this year,” Chandler said. “We don’t get to recruit our players, so we have to adjust to whatever our strength is and work through that. We’re coaching our linebackers to be in a position to be successful.”

With the talent up front, the Panthers are excited about the development the defensive players have made at linebacker heading into the new year. Despite the turnover, Princeton has the talent to not skip a beat, and potentially improve on the defensive side of the ball in 2023.

“It’s going to be a good group, but we’re going to be a younger group,” Chandler said. “Losing a player like Billy Sanchez will be tough. He was a leader of the defense and got everyone lined up and in the right spot. We had some younger guys step up this offseason and we feel good about the position.”

The two returning players for the Panthers are inside linebackers Carl White and Kaden Wiley. White was one of Princeton’s leading tacklers and enters his senior season with expectations as a force on the defensive side of the ball.

“Carl did a great job for us at the mike linebacker spot and we’re looking forward to him having a great senior year,” Chandler said.

Wiley is moving from outside linebacker to inside linebacker, part of Princeton’s overall scheme change to get faster on defense. One of the best athletes on defense, Wiley has made strides as a leader on the field heading into his third varsity season.

“Wiley grew a lot this offseason turning into that leader on the field and helping the younger kids on the field,” Chandler said. “They took it upon themselves to push their teammates and turn the attitude around this summer. They want to be good and they don’t want this team to be bad.”

Wiley’s move inside is a goal of Princeton to allow him to use his superior tackling abilities. He’s a physical player and should help him improve the run defense.

“He’s going to get more downhill and get into the box and make tackles,” Chandler said. “It fits him for us because he’s a really good tackler. He can play defensive end, inside and outside linebacker and feel good about what he can do. He’s moving inside and he’s got a lot of experience. He’s been on the varsity team since his sophomore year and he’s worked hard going into his senior year. With him and Carl, we’ll be solid in the middle.”

His move inside also allows Princeton to move Ladon McKinney to the outside, adding more speed and versatility to the defense. McKinney played both receiver and cornerback last season, and his added size in the offseason will allow him to fit into his new role on the interior.

“He’s tough as nails,” Chandler said. “He wants to be on the field and will do anything to help the program.”

On the opposite side, rising sophomores Nick Rodriguez and Gio Ayala occupy the other outside linebacker spot after helping Princeton to a stand-out junior varsity season.

With the new players competing for roles at outside linebacker, the goal for Princeton’s new defensive look was to help a pass defense that struggled mightily throughout the season, particularly against the top teams in the district like Lovejoy and Melissa. Coach Chandler said that was an area that definitely was emphasized in the offseason.

“We were terrible at defending the pass last season,” Chandler said. “We got a player in Ladon who can tackle and cover but we have to get better there in both coverage and in getting after the quarterback. We can’t cover forever and the guys up front have to help. Speed kills and we want to have that speed on our side.”

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