The Clark Atlanta Panthers offensive line got stronger as their game against visiting Central State University went on Saturday night. As expected from a group of freshmen, as all five starters were during the game, there were going to be missteps and blunders. Also expected from such a ballyhooed group there has been excellent play and flashes of brilliance that speaks well of the recruiting job first-year head coach Tim Bowens and his staff has done to get them on the field at the Atlanta University Center.

On offense Bowens has experienced players leading the way. The Panthers have a senior at quarterback, former Albany State University signal-caller Charles Stafford, and experience at receiver with senior Johnathan Sanders, former University of Georgia receiver junior Caleeb Roberson and junior tight end Trey Wilson, to name a few but up front there’s nothing but newbies.

Elijah Burks, Jordan Flowers, Everton Henry, Isaiah Goolsby, Eliser Hernandez, Kamau Williams and Mackenzie Woodruff are a dream class of linemen on any level but at the Division II level, in particular in the SIAC level they can have the talent to ultimately be one of the conference’s best ever. Those lofty heights begin on the field however and during the first half of the Panthers 23-19 loss to the Marauders there were many growing pains taking place that are to be expected and tolerated.

Down 16-6 early in the second quarter, Stafford was sacked as the line seemed to open a hole big enough for all of the Central State pass-rushers to go through simultaneously. A bad read? A missed assignment? Maybe a little of both but Marauders junior defensive linemen Richard Gaskins found room to pin the Panthers back and force a punt.

On the next Panthers possession with 6:29 remaining in the first half a bad snap forced Stafford to become a receiver in order to secure it leading to another Central State sack.

Stuff happens. 

The line held strong later on during the Panther’s final drive of the half which ended in a Stafford touchdown pass to Wilson. During that drive Stafford had time to complete passes to junior Drakar Jerry and freshman running back Darrell Nichols.

Goolsby, an All-Region player while in high school at Northwest High in Macon, comes to Clark Atlanta from Mercer University where he failed to suit up as a freshman. Henry and Hernandez are prized recruits out of Florida, both from Coral Gables, and all three were starters on Saturday. Woodruff, who also started, is from Hephzibah and Flowers, the other starters, is from nearby College Park. Burks, a guard, played at a high level as a schoolboy at Hillgrove High School. Williams is also a local recruit out of Alpharetta.

Despite the Panthers losing a third consecutive game to begin the season there are some bright spots to focus on. The offensive line is one of those bright spots for certain.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Donnell began his career covering sports and news in Atlanta nearly two decades ago. Since then he has written for Atlanta Business Chronicle, The Southern Cross...

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