Knipp takes over young Panthers


Photo’s by Kent Sanborn


CHESAPEAKE – Todd Knipp wants to nip the Panthers’ injuries in the bud.

Because, if Chesapeake stays healthy, this could end up being a quality campaign.

Knipp – as a Panther assistant coach last season – witnessed first-hand how many injuries the Purple endured.

It started in the squad’s season-opening blowout loss at Oak Hill, and seemed to snowball from there.

But now, Knipp is the head coach – and he’s hoping this season is indeed the silver lining to last season’s storm cloud called the injury bug.

Knipp takes over for veteran Chesapeake coach Andy Clark, and returns to the head coaching ranks following 13 seasons as the bench boss at Rock Hill.

He has been an assistant on Clark’s staff for the past two years, including last season’s 5-5 mark.

Knipp discussed what has been a smooth transition to his second head coaching post, and what it means to once again lead a football team.

“It feels good to be back as a head coach. I enjoy being a head coach and I’ve been fortunate to replace two very good head coaches which left on their own terms. There has been a lot of stability in this Chesapeake program. I am only the third coach in 30 years. We’ve kept our staff mostly intact and the community has been very receptive,” he said. “It’s been a great transition thus far.”

In dealing with the mash unit that became the Panther roster, Knipp said several of the younger players gained valuable experience for this year.

“All the injuries last season were unfortunate. We’ve done a lot of prehab things to try to prevent some injuries, but broken bones and ligament tears are things that you can’t prepare for. But with those injuries, a lot of young kids had to step in and become comfortable playing against physically more mature guys,” said the coach. We took a next-man-up mentality, and we have that again.”

While the Panthers did graduate standout Austin Browning – their all-Southeast District Division V first-team defensive back – three other all-district honorees return, all of which are seniors.

Chesapeake sports seven seniors altogether, as the majority of the roster – 15 to be exact – consists of sophomores.

Knipp said it is important for the underclassmen-heavy Panthers to keep developing – and stay healthy.

“On paper we look young, being sophomore-heavy with our 37 kids, but actually we’re pretty experienced,” he said. “We had kids keep stepping in and getting valuable experience. That should help them in making this transition quickly.”

But, at least the backfield is back-loaded with experience.

All four of the Panthers’ starting running backs are seniors – with Will Todd (5-7, 150) and Kamren Harless (6-1, 165) the wingbacks and Carson Nida (5-9, 165) and Logan Walsh (5-8, 165) the fullbacks.

Will Todd
Current Team


Kamren Harless
Current Team

Harless – an all-district first-team running back – rushed 117 times for 1,053 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, while Todd – an all-district Honorable Mention  selection – carried 57 times for 641 yards and eight scores in only five games due to injury.

“All of those guys have started for us and they compete well with each other. They will each carry the ball, we can throw the ball to them out of the backfield, they all block for one another, they are all athletic and self-less. I think they like blocking for each other more than they do running the ball,” said Knipp. “All those kids kind of have a different skill set, but they bring a lot to the table.”

Donald Richendollar – a five-foot nine-inch 160-pound junior – takes over for Browning as the starting quarterback.

Richendollar actually started the final few games of last year.

Richendollar’s receivers include a trio of juniors – Thomas Sentz (6-3, 170), Ian Hicks (5-3, 110) and Nick Ferguson (5-10, 145) – and tight ends Justice Hutchison (6-3, 225, So.), Blake Thompson (5-10, 190, Jr.) and Luke Shields (5-9, 165, Sr.).

“Donald got a lot of valuable experience at the varsity level. He probably took snaps at quarterback almost every game, meaningful snaps,” said Knipp. “Donald gives us a pretty good skill set as far as a runner and a thrower at the quarterback position. He’s really grasping the offense and showing a lot of leadership.”

Perhaps the biggest beneficiary from the aforementioned injuries is the offensive line, as sophomore center Alec Dement (5-10, 215) took over in the second quarter of the opener at Oak Hill.

Fellow sophomores R.J. Ward (5-9, 215) and Nick Burns (6-0, 270) are the guards, as Ward will be the backup center to Dement.

Still two other sophomores, Zack Stepp (5-11, 190) and Cody Bragg (5-9, 175), are the backups guards – as returning junior J.T. Henry (5-10, 255) holds down the left tackle spot.

The Panthers are anchored up front by big senior standout right tackle Dakota Hess, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 365 pounds.

Dakota Hess
Current Team
Hess was a first-team all-district lineman last season, as the backup tackles are junior Hunter Blackburn (6-2, 275) and sophomore Bryce Mount (6-1, 260).

Knipp mentioned the depth and development of his offensive linemen.

“By the end of last year, we had three freshmen starting on the offensive line. This year, we’re a little bigger, and we can rotate several kids in there and keep them fresh and they are all able to do the job,” he said. “The key now is getting them to jell together and gain a better understanding of the system and execute it at a high level.”

Those same linemen line up on defense, with Blackburn and Henry returning at tackle, as Hess is the strong side end and Shields on the weak side.

Hutchison, Burns and Mount are among that rotation as well.

Dement and Ward are the inside linebackers, with Walsh – a three-year starter – and Todd, a two-year starter, on the outside.

Nida and Richendollar return as the cornerbacks, with Sentz, Hicks and Ferguson rotating in – as Harless is back at safety with backup quarterback Levi Best (5-10, 130, So.) backing him up.

Knipp explained that the Panthers play primarily two types of offenses – a run-oriented attack and a spread-the-field formation.

He wants his defense to be fast, but be better against the run.

“Our back seven in our 4-2-5 has a lot of experience, our secondary has a lot of speed, but our run defense does have to improve,” said Knipp. “We want to swarm to the football and get as many guys around the ball, but we have to do a better job of getting off blocks and making tackles. With the types of teams we play, shedding blocks and making open-field tackles are important if we are going to succeed. We should be able to cover some ground, but we still need to get guys to the ground.”

Brady Wilson, one of the seven seniors, is the Panthers’ placekicker.

As for the Ohio Valley Conference, Knipp knows the OVC extremely well – from his days at Rock Hill.

Gallia Academy is the defending champion, but the coach sees the conference as a wide-open race.

Head Coach Todd Knipp

Current Team
Past Teams
Rock Hill
“There is simply no easy game in the league,” he said. “Not one. Gallia Academy is at the top and you have to knock them off, but Ironton and Portsmouth and Fairland have playmakers and are right there with them. I look for Coal Grove, Rock Hill and South Point to all improve. You have to bring your ‘A’ game each week as there is no easy way thru the league.”

Although, if the Panthers can stay healthy, their trek through the OVC – along with the entire season – can be made much smoother.

“If we can stay healthy, I believe we can compete with anybody we play. Football is still all about blocking, tackling and taking care of the ball. If we do those things better than our opponents, then we give ourselves a chance to win,” said Knipp. “Our goal is to compete, play hard and give ourselves an opportunity at the end of the ballgame and see what happens.”

Chesapeake 2019 Roster & Stats

2Logan Walsh20205-081650000052234100000000
3Carson Nida20205-09165000002095011000000
3Marcus Burnside20235-0521500000447100000000
4Will Todd20205-07150000001188826232000000
5Kamren Harless20206-01165000001659517585100000
6Lucas Shepherd20225-071300000014000000000
7Levi Best20225-101300000000000000000
7Grayson Walsh20225-091450000019000000000
8Randy Wilson20205-08155000002-3000000000
11Nick Ferguson20215-101450000000000000000
12Jordan Phillips20226-031700000000000000000
12Thomas Sentz20216-0317000000000494100000
14Donald Richendollar20215-09160133432342102733900000000
15Aaron Ross20235-0414000000110000000000
16Kaleb Stepp20225-071350000000000000000
20Luke Shields20205-091650000000000000000
21Sam Bevans20235-081350000000000000000
22Jaxon Vance20236-001800000000000000000
28Izaiah Willis20225-091450000017000000000
33Landon Preston20225-071300000000000000000
34Blake Thompson20215-101900000000000000000
35Ian Hicks20215-0311000000220000000000
44Justice Hutchison20226-0322500000000122000000
45Haven Perkins20235-071300000000000000000
50Jacob Belton20226-021950000000000000000
53Alec Dement20225-102150000000000000000
54R.J Ward20225-092150000000000000000
55Hayden Blankenship20226-002100000000000000000
56J.T. Henry20215-102550000000000000000
60Cody Bragg20225-091750000000000000000
62Zack Stepp20225-111900000000000000000
65Nick Burns20226-002700000000000000000
70Hunter Blackburn20216-022750000000000000000
71Bryce Mount20226-011600000000000000000
77Dakota Hess20206-013650000000000000000
81Scott Poole20235-071200000000000000000
88Ryan Martin20236-001400000000000000000

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