Prior to winning an Olympic gold medal in freestyle wrestling this summer, Winslow Township graduate Jordan Burroughs was highlighted in a commercial for CF Athletic that spawned the tagline “embrace the grind.”
It caught on both locally and nationally and is certain to appear on the backs of T-shirts for many years to come.
At Collingswood High School, football coach John McConnell has no
problem admitting he adopted the Olympic gold medalist's line. He just hopes his players have bought into the message.
“One of the things we are preaching is to embrace the grind,” McConnell said. “We have to plug at it and keep working hard and keep getting better. That was our main goal during the offseason, to keep getting better and better.”
Collingswood enters its season opener Saturday at Woodbury with hopes of building off a 3-6 2011 season. For the season to start off with a win, the Panthers will have to improve their play on the road; they were 0-4 away from home a year ago.
“I think the schedule had something to do with that, but it is also a case of us building a program and trying to get that edge to go out and take something,” McConnell said.
“We will be the underdog almost every game we play on the road. We have a tough run, but we have to start taking something instead of just going through the motions. Our first three games are away, so we definitely have to turn that around.”
McConnell has been pleased with what he has seen so far in the preseason from his players. Mistakes have been made, but the younger players are buying into the system.
“I think we have been looking pretty good,” McDonnell said. “We have some leadership in our seniors, and young guys are stepping up and getting playing time. The more experience we get, the better we will be.”
One of the Panthers looking to make a statement this season is likely to be senior Forrley Gunby, a Swiss-Army-knife player who excels as a slot receiver and cornerback or linebacker on defense.
Coming off a season in which the offense sputtered at times, producing just 83 total points, the Panthers are turning the reins over to sophomore quarterback Jordan Wallace. The young playmaker has shown promise in the preseason, although McConnell has coached long enough to know he will face a learning curve.
“Jordan has a lot of ability,” McConnell said. “He has a strong arm, can make something out of nothing and is getting more and more confident. It’s real exciting to have a player with his abilities, and we expect a lot of good things from him."
Junior running backs Teron Washington and Allen Valentine will return to form a quality backfield, with John Deaner paving the way at fullback.
The defense will be anchored by cornerbacks Samir Inge and Chauncy Green, with Will Pope providing some thump on the defensive line. The Panthers don’t have a ton of standout players, but McConnell feels that as a group, they have more speed than they had in years past.
“We had some problems getting to the corners last season," McConnell said. "I think we have a little more speed this year and will be able to have more success in that area.
"We have a lot of areas where we still need to grow, but the guys have embraced the grind so far and we are feeling good heading into the season,” the coach said.