It’s Bender time in Mt. Pleasant. After the graduation of their second-straight three-year quarterback, the Panthers will turn to a one-year starter, senior Brody Bender to lead the offense into the new year, and the new “QB1” is gearing up for his first start in two years.
Bender had been the backup to Zach Beason for the past two years. Beason was the starter for a three year stretch from 2016-2018, which followed a three-year stint for Joe Hess. That means it’s been a while since a Panther QB has been asked to save it all for his senior campaign.
“It does feel different,” Bender said about preparing to be the day one starter. “But I’m going to prepare the same, like I have been the last two years. Everything is going to be the same, so we’ll just stick with it and keep grinding.”
Bender is more of a pass-first quarterback, a little different than what Panther fans saw out of Beason. In 2018, the quarterback position accounted for more rushing yards and touchdowns than any individual running back. But the versatile passing game was still a huge part of the job, with Mt. Pleasant passing for over 2,200 yards on the year.
“I’ve learned a lot, especially from Zach, in the last two years,” Bender says. “I give everything to Zach because he’s been the go-to guy. If I have any questions, I go to him. Zach, Coach Beason and I have worked hard the last two years, so it’s time to show it.”
Bender was able to get behind center in a handful of games last year, going 6-14 for 97 yards. He actually saw a bigger work load in 2017, having to come in for the injured Beason for a home game against Solon.
It definitely wasn’t the easiest assignment, stepping in to play the Spartans. Going into their Week 7 showdown, Solon had given up just 14 points in their previous six games, all blowout wins.
Bender says the start against Solon, along with time he got last year taught him a vaulable lesson about playing QB, be prepared to take some contact.
“You’re going to get hit,” Bender says. “That’s the job. You just have to keep getting up, and if the play doesn’t go your way, you’ll always have the next play.”
Bender will have a fairly new crop of receivers this year. The Panthers’ top receiver, Rylan Seberg will return after going for 657 receiving yards and four touchdowns last year. Mt. Pleasant, however, will be without three of the four guys who went for triple-digits in receiving yard slast year, including 2019 graduate Chase Lamm, who finished neck-and-neck with Seberg with 635 yards and four touchdowns of his own.
The Panthers look to a pair of juniors, Brevin Wilson and Chase Williamson, to take some heat off Seberg in the receiving corp. Wilson caught four balls for 80 yards last season, and Williamson had one catch of his own.
Seberg says he’s ready to give his new QB a boost when the regular season finally begins next week.
“He knows the plays,” Seberg says. “He’s just got to get his reads down and we’ll be solid. He’s got a good arm and he’s always looking for me, so I’m excited.”
Seberg says he sees some similarities between Bender and his predecesor.
“Brody and Zach are quite a bit alike,” he says. “I think Zach had a little stronger arm last year. He kind of lofted it up a little more and made you run underneath of it. Brody has a little more of a strike, where he’ll throw it right to you, so I’ve just got to bring the jets this year, catch some passese and get up field.”
The Panthers will be able to get a bit of a game-time feel on Saturday, Aug. 24, when they play a 9 a.m. scrimmage against West Burlington-Notre Dame. That will be six days ahead of Mt. Pleasant’s first game, which takes place on the road at Clear Creek-Amana on Friday, Aug. 30.
Mt. Pleasant will be starting the year with two of its losses from last season, and also two of the toughest defenses on the schedule. After their Week 1 game at CCA, the Panthers will host Pella.
Both the Clippers and Dutch gave the Panthers fits on offense in 2018, so it will be a good test for MP’s new gunslinger.