ASHDOWN, Ark (KMSS/KTAL) – Ashdown is ready to take the next step.

After a second round playoff exit a season ago, the the Panthers have sky high expectations in 2022.

“Last year we didn’t get to reach our full potential,” said Senior Jonathan McElroy. “We’re working even harder.”

McElroy will take over at quarterback this year.

“He might be the best quarterback we’ve ever had,” said Head Coach Matt Richardson. “It’s hard to say that when you had Jayden Hill playing quarterback.”

McElroy is making the switch from wide receiver to signal caller, but it’s not uncharted territory.

McElroy quarterbacked the Panthers’ ninth grade team to a district title that season.

Now the group that won district is looking to bring a state title to Ashdown for the first time.

A big reason to be confident is the Panthers biggest target, Arkansas commit Shamar Easter, The best player in the state of Arkansas.

“It makes life a lot easier for me,” said McElroy. “I can just throw it up!”

“I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do. It’s my last year,” said Easter, who is rated the 197th best player in the nation according to ESPN. “I’ve got to ball out and make this team my family.”

“Shamar’s a celebrity. He’s so loveable,” said Richardson. “His smile, his attitude, everyone wants to be around him.”

Just over 4,000 people call the town of Ashdown home.

All 4,000 will be hanging on every play the purple and gold make in 2022.

“It’s a dream come true really,” McElroy said after being asked what it means to be the quarterback of his hometown team. “I was a water boy for the high school team when I was in 7th, 8th grade.”

“I was over there in the student section when I was young,” said defensive lineman Rezell Ellis. “Me and Shamar (Easter) we grew up together, same apartment complex, outside everyday playing football waiting for high school to come.”

“We’ve got nasty, old, rusty weights but that rusty 45 weighs as much as anyone else’s nice clean one.” said Richardson.

“These kids aren’t scared to put in the hard work.”