BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - One Baton Rouge school is trying to get over the hump in the 2016 season with a new head coach.
The McKinley Panthers are working towards what they hope will be more successful season this year. The Panthers were 3-7 overall last year and missed the playoffs.
However, new head coach Ken Hilton has brought a fresh energy and outlook to the Panthers.
McKinley did not shy away from a tough spring game opponent, battling perennial power U-High. The Cubs jumped on the Panthers early, before McKinley was able to fight back and start moving the football.
Hilton said it is the kind of spirit that begins to turn things around for the program.
"They did. They came out, scored two quick ones on us, then we got a stop," Hilton said. "We settled down and we played a whole lot better, really pleased. I thought we found some running game, we kind of got things going, good things going and we did make some good things with the passing game coming along pretty good for us."
Hilton is hardly a stranger to local high school football. He has been a head coach at Baker, Scotlandville and is now ready for a second run at McKinley after coaching the Panthers in 2004.
"That means I have an important role to play," said Bryant Lee, about what it meant to be the senior quarterback for the Panthers. "I have to keep my team motivated, gotta keep them focused. Quarterback is a very important role and I think I can handle it."
"I think we're in a positive direction, putting in hard work since January. Very excited to get the season started," said senior defensive back Jarvais Robinson. "We have a good group of seniors, ready to lead the team to where we need to be. Like Coach Hilton says every morning, we gotta get in and grind. Our opponents, they're not slacking so we gotta get in first. Early bird gets the worm."
McKinley is coming off a rough season last year, but is hopeful to bounce back with Lee at quarterback. Hilton said they have put plenty on Lee's plate.
"We're asking him to set up protections. We're asking him to read defenses," Hilton said. "If we're in a bad situation, get us out of it, call something else, and that's obviously got to be done in film study, and studying off the film as well as on."
"It's a hard process, but I'm getting better at yet," Lee said. "A new coach, Coach Thigpen. He's teaching me some new things I haven't learned before but, you can learn something new every day."
"I think it's a good thing for the offense. A guy with experience. Make plays with his arm and his legs. Very smart, intelligent, and he can run the offense very well," Robinson said.
MOBILE VIDEO: Watch part 1 on the McKinley Panthers from Sportsline Summer Camp