GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) – D.H. Conley senior center and defensive tackle Panda Askew is our newest WITN Pepsi Player of the Week!
For the third straight year, the D.H. Conley Vikings opened their season with a loss to Northeastern. But this 2019 football team is hoping to rebound, just like the program did back in 2017 and 2018.
One of the captains making sure that happens is senior Panda Askew.
"Whenever Panda Askew walks into the room," said head coach Nate Conner. "The room changes. He has a contagious personality that everybody gravitates to."
His real name is Jaden, but that all changed when he was nine years old.
"A coach gave me that nickname when I was nine years old playing little league baseball," explained Askew. "And I was like 'I like that' and I just kept it."
On Twitter, Panda wrote: "Just so y’all know, I legally changed my middle name to Panda five years ago. It started as a nickname but is now my real name. I think it fits me! #muchlove"
Nearly a decade later, Panda is now flipping pancakes on the football field.
"I just like getting dirty in the trenches," said Askew. "I have very quick feet, probably from baseball. And my hands. My hands are great."
"I think his attitude and the toughness he brings is the key," said Conner. "I think that's what makes him elite."
Elite at positions often overlooked.
"We're just the unknown player," said Askew. "Nobody looks at us to see 'Oh he's making the touchdown.' We just get it done. It doesn't matter to us. We don't want all the fame and glory, we just want the win."
Panda rarely takes a snap off for the Vikings. He is also the long snapper on punts and field goals.
"We have so many different jobs," said Askew. "We have different men, different coverages, different fronts. And then you just have to know all of them and just execute."
"He's a leader on our team," added Conner. "He's a captain. He trains hard. He practices really hard. He's a worker. Everything he's got, he's earned. He's a special young man."
Panda's energy and charisma make him an excellent communicator.
"I just do it for [my teammates], and it's just so much fun just to do it for them and not for myself," said Askew. "It's just the team. The boys."
"His ceiling is really high," said Conner. "He is just now turning into what he's going to be, and I think he has so much potential moving forward."
Panda already has offers from UNC-Charlotte, Lenoir-Rhyne, Air Force, and NC Central, but he says he's hoping for more!
The Vikings play their first road contest of the 2019 season when the team travels to Rocky Mount to take on the Gryphons this upcoming Friday night at 7 p.m.
For more on Askew, check out the video above! (Feature airs Tuesday during WITN Sports at 6:20 p.m.)
NOTE: If you have a student-athlete that you would like to nominate as a WITN Pepsi Player of the Week, please email a bio to Tyler Feldman at firstname.lastname@example.org.