NEDERLAND — In a small town like Nederland, numbers tend to dictate what can and cannot happen athletically.
Soccer used to be the sport of choice for a majority of the kids, but interest started to wane when they got to high school and they needed an outlet. For most, it was football.
And Panthers football coach Aaron Jones is the beneficiary of that. He has had the chance over his 10 year tenure to mold and sculpt not just soccer players, but skiers and other athletes into successful football players.
"Soccer teaches you a lot of footwork, teamwork and stamina," said Jones, whose team will embark on an 8-man independent schedule in 2016 — including trips to distant locales like Hayden and Dove Creek.
"The games are very different, but I think being on the large field with all the guys working together and that coordination is something that crosses over and we are happy to have those guys out here."
Trig Campbell, Caleb Pugmire and Jean Luc Pineau all grew up playing soccer together and have all transitioned into dynamic football players.
"I would probably play both, but I like football a lot more," said Campbell, who will be one of the focal points of a balanced Panthers offensive attack this fall. "I grew up playing soccer in a small town, and it was rough sometimes. But I have come to appreciate football, it has taught me a lot and is a lot more physically demanding than soccer ever was."
But it is that harmony on the football field with not only his old soccer teammates but his football comrades — including senior quarterback Jaylan Rasdall — that has endeared Campbell to his coaches.
"(Trig) is a great player out there for us and he is as tough as nails when he is on the field," Jones said. "All those guys are super important parts of our team."
None of the three soccer players started their high school careers until their sophomore season. The Panthers had an outstanding group of soccer seniors when the trio were freshman and they wanted to be a part of something special.
But when numbers ultimately dictated that the school couldn't field a team, they went to football and flourished. Campbell stepped right into a starting cornerback position and hasn't looked back.
"Starting as a sophomore, I was a little nervous going up against some of the bigger guys," said Campbell, who also remembers the initial shock of being popped by a much heavier senior the first time. "But once I started getting into it, I realized that I wasn't a small as I thought I was and I could still move pretty quick."
The success of the Panthers will start with Rasdall. The senior quarterback is very much a dual threat, having thrown 18 touchdown passes last year and rushed for over 400 yards. He should have plenty of time to make the necessary decisions with a experienced group of linemen. A welcome site for Jones and his staff was the 6-foot-3, 250 pound Indiana transfer Brennan Johnson.
COACH: Aaron Jones (11th year).
LAST YEAR: 6-3, 5-2 8-man Central League.
RETURNING STARTERS: Bob Allen (Sr., OL-DL, 6-0, 150); Trig Campbell (Sr., WR-DB, 6-1, 175); Ian Dunham (Jr., OL-DL, 6-0, 220); Caleb Pugmire (Sr., WR-DB, 5-9, 150); Jaylan Rasdall (Sr., QB, 6-0, 150); Kenny Shankey (Sr., TB-LB, 5-10, 165).
OTHERS TO WATCH: Hunter Chilcote (Sr., OL-DL, 5-10, 165); Taylor Hoffman (So., WR-DB, 6-2, 170); Brennan Johnson (So., OL-DL, 6-3, 250); Gabe Larabee (Sr., TE-LB, 6-1, 170); Jean Luc Pineau (Sr., WR, 5-8, 130); Ezekiel Slobig (So., OL-LB, 5-10, 190).
COLLEGE PROSPECTS: Campbell, Rasdall.
MUST-SEE GAME: Sept. 23 at Rocky Mountain Lutheran, 7 p.m..
STRENGTHS: The skill positions are solid, from the all-conference quarterback to a punishing running-back and the sure-handed wide outs. The balance is there for the Panthers to be able to put up some very decent numbers.
WEAKNESSES: The have to stay healthy, especially at running back and at linebacker ... not a lot of depth there.
Aug. 26 — at Hayden, 7 p.m.
Sept. 3 — JUSTICE, 1 p.m.
Sept. 9 — at Miami-Yoder, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 — WEST GRAND, 4 p.m.
Sept. 23 — at Rocky Mountain Lutheran, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 — at Dove Creek, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8 — TBA
Oct. 15 — TBA
Oct. 24 — DEL NORTE, 1 p.m.
NOTE: Home games in upper case and at Nederland H.S.