Photo/Zac Chamblee

We’re a month into the 2018-2019 soccer season, and the Petal Panthers are still unbeaten (7-0) having already surpassed their win total from last year. There’s an excitement in the air, and that was only magnified Monday when two of their top players signed to play at the next level.

Sheldon Dicks and Jacob Russell will continue their careers together at Meridian Community College once their final season in a Panther uniform concludes in 2019. Both seniors have been instrumental to Petal’s fast start, and they say there’s a buzz throughout the school and community. 

“We’re pretty pumped, and we’re trying to keep it rolling,” Russell said. “Our motto is 21-0, and that’s what we’re trying to fill out.”

Russell starts at goalkeeper for the the Panthers, and he’s coming off a season where he recorded a school-record 121 saves. Three years ago, the position was unfamiliar to Russell, but because of his size and reach he was encouraged to try out there. 

“First off, I wasn’t too good at it, but I just kept working my tail off. It worked out,” Russell said. “To break a school record last year, that’s crazy. This year, I don’t think I’ll break the record again just because how well the team is doing.”

The operative word there is team, according to Sheldon Dicks. 

 

 

“We came together like a band of brothers, and now morale is really high,” Dicks said. “We’re staying humble thankfully, but it’s been really good.”

A captain and a two-time open heart surgery survivor, Dicks can play multiple positions for the Panthers. 

“I was about 10 days old when I had open heart surgery, and I was 11 when I had a second open heart surgery,” Dicks said. “It was to fix a leak that was in one of my valves so I could survive.”

Currently, he’s second on the team in assists (9), and the heart problems that once plagued him are a thing of the past.

“I actually found out from the doctors that playing soccer is what kept my heart healthy and strong instead of enlarging.”

Dicks says the experience has motivated him to want to become a heart surgeon one day. For now, though, he’s focused on his soccer career having already earned a spot in Petal’s Soccer Hall of Fame. It was announced Monday that both Dicks and Russell will be a part the inaugural class. 

“Today’s a special day,” Petal coach John Dicks said. “It’s my first time here at Petal having a boy sign. I’ve had these boys since they were in the seventh grade, so it’s pretty special whenever you see them grow as a young man but also a soccer player.”

The Panthers will resume play Tuesday at home against South Jones.

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