Kennerly, Panthers pursuing 5-2A title

by Levi Gilbert

After starting the season 0-3, Carson Kennerly and the Magnet Cove Panthers refused to keep their heads down. 

Four weeks later, they now sit atop the 5-2A conference. 

“The turnaround in our play can, in my opinion, be attributed to the reality shock of losing all three pre-season games,” Kennerly said. “We came into this season a little too hot headed, but after the losses we realized just exactly what it would take to not have another losing season.

“It’s all about heart. Never giving up, never turning on each other, never backing down. In [conference play], we have been the team that imposes our will in the fourth quarter. We take what we do best, and we make the other team like it.”

After losing all three non-conference games, the Panthers (4-3, 4-0) have rolled off four straight wins, including barn-burners over top-notch 5-2A teams England (31-30 in Week 4) and Hector (10-8 in Week 7). Bigelow is next up for the Panthers, who are working to stay focused and not look ahead second place Conway Christian in Week 9. 

“Bigelow is never a team to scoff at,” Kennerly said. “They can surprise you if you let them. We plan to treat them with the respect and dedication they deserve. They’re just as important to our success as any other team. This late in the season, we are all looking at Conway Christian. They are an excellent football team. We have a lot of respect for them and always look forward to playing them.

“It’ll all be determined by if we can continue doing what we do. If we can stay focused, stay positive, we can stay on top of the 5-2A.”

Kennerly, a senior offensive/defensive lineman for the Panthers, was selected to this year’s 501 Football Team — 25 players representing all 11 counties of the 501. The team, sponsored by Conway Ortho and Sports Medicine, Conway Regional Health System and First Security Bank, boasts the best the 501 has to offer both on and off the field. Kennerly was nominated by his former head coach, Ronnie Efird.

“Carson is one of the strongest players on the team, so one of his best qualities is that he’s a tough player to move around,” Efird wrote in his nomination. “He plays with a lot of intensity. Off the field, Carson is an honor student, very bright and respectful — a “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” type of student.

“I love this young man because of his attitude; he wants to better himself as a student and as a football player. Carson is one of the hardest workers in the weight room and on the field. He leads by example.”

As the regular season begins to wind down and the playoffs approach, Kennerly is desperately trying to soak it all in. 

“I want to enjoy my last few weeks of football, no matter how the season turns out, and be there for my teammates,” Kennerly said. “We want to maintain our brotherhood and bring the winning way back to Magnet Cove. Off the field, I’ve been trying to find the time to get to know all of the new guys on the team. This includes the new batch of sophomores and the guys who have transferred here. 

“You don’t just want to build a relationship when you’re on the field with them. You want to get to know them outside of the game — know who that guy battling beside you really is.”

Kennerly has also spent time this season getting to learn Magnet Cove’s new head coach, Caleb Carmikle. Carmikle graduated from Heber Springs and comes back to Arkansas after coaching in Louisiana. 

“Playing for Carmikle has been electrifying,” Kennerly said. “He’s incredibly energetic and is always pushing each player individually. He knows each guy personally, on a deeper level than just another player. It’s been truly amazing.”

Off the field, Kennerly is involved with Future Farmers of America, Beta Club and EAST at Magnet Cove. He also gives back to the community through service projects at his church, Meadowview Missionary Baptist Church.

Kennerly and the Panthers play at Bigelow at 7 p.m. Friday.