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KENLY — As the North Johnston High football program conducted its second official practice of August on Friday morning, the Lady Panthers tennis team was in the midst of its own second-day workout.
While no one was about to confuse the proceedings taking place on the grass with those unfolding on the asphalt just yards away, the gridiron Panthers went about their business with a brisk, workmanlike efficiency devoid of any coaches communicating with a raised voice that echoed across the field.
Close your eyes, and the 58 combined varsity and junior varsity candidates could be mentally transported to the hard courts, racquets in hand.
Well, almost. Welcome to the first year of the Michael Barnett regime in Kenly.
“These kids work hard and they’re intelligent,” Barnett said following practice Friday. “And we’ve attacked it that way. We’re being more teaching, because we’ve switched our offense and defense. But now, if we have to get in their stuff, we will. But it’s not much, because the mistakes the kids are making, they’re making at 100 miles an hour. And that’s fine. We can work with that.”
Barnett, who was elevated to head coach after serving as an assistant last season on Jon Riba’s staff, split his numbers into 30 junior varsity players and 28 on the varsity — a serviceable number for a school that traditionally boasts 2-A figures when subdivision for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs rolls around.
“I’m excited with those numbers,” Barnett said. “A small 2-A school? Yes sir, that’s exciting.”
As Barnett makes the move to his first head coaching position, he’s found the added administrative responsibilities to be the biggest adjustment.
“It’s a lot different, because now I don’t have anybody I can turn to and ask questions!” Barnett joked. “They turn to me and ask the questions! Just the paperwork, and making sure we’re dotting Is and crossing Ts.”
Although North Johnston will be implementing new schemes on both sides of the ball, the Panthers bring back capable playmakers at quarterback and running back. Senior passer Camden Aycock threw for more than 1,000 yards and rushed for more than 500 more, accounting for a combined 24 TDs.
Junior running back Camron Privette returns coming off a 1,000-yard season on the ground.
Of concern for Barnett, who will serve as the defensive playcaller and oversee North Johnston’s defensive backs, is the secondary.
“We’ve got some good kids coming back, but a lot of them have not started at that position yet,” Barnett said.
North Johnston roots run deep in Barnett’s first staff.
The assistant pool is filled out by offensive coordinator Jeremiah Holland, Stephen Allard (linebackers), Thomas Jackson (defensive line), Cy Daughtry (offensive line) and Thomas Garrou (wide receivers).
Holland, Jackson and Daughtry are all graduates of North Johnston. Allard has experience in the Eastern Plains Conference as a product of Farmville Central.
North Johnston is coming off a 3-8 season and is looking for its first showing over .500 in three years.
Leading up to the season opener against Red Springs at Ben E. Strifert Stadium on Aug. 23, the Panthers will have one opportunity to scrimmage Aug. 14 at the Muddy Water Jamboree, where Smithfield-Selma will host North Johnston, Southern Nash, Goldsboro, North Lenoir, South Lenoir and Newton Grove Hobbton.