(Editors note: this article was published after Southside head football coach and athletic director Marty Smith resigned his positions on Aug. 21)
By Gene Stanley/Sports Correspondent
Marty Smith said it’s no secret what his Southside High football team will hope to accomplish this season – and there are a couple of good reasons.
One, the most experienced group of Panthers is the offensive line. Second, there is a bevy of fleet-footed running backs. Third, for the first time in three years, there will be a new quarterback in tow.
With all of that information, it shouldn’t take more than one guess to know that Southside will rely heavily on the running game.
“We’ll be trying to ram it down everyone’s throat,” Smith said. “If we can run it like we’re capable of, we’ve got a chance for success.”
Based on numbers, others are predicting success for the Panthers.
Seven starters return on defense and eight are back on offense, as well as most of the special teams.
In fact, more than one pundit has predicted South-side to win the Class 5A, Region 7 title.
“Until someone knocks off Fort Payne, they’ve got to be considered the top dog,” Smith said. “They’ve had too much success to ignore.”
The Wildcats have won the region crown in five of the last seven seasons, yet return only two starters from last year.
The biggest Panther ret-urnee, in more than one way, is junior offensive lineman Tyler Carr.
Carr, who is drawing attention from several Div-ision I schools, will put all of his attention on the off-ensive side in 2013.
As a defensive lineman last season, the 6’6”, 270-pounder Carr was named to the Class 5A All-State first team after making 47 tackles, including eight for a loss.
“Tyler’s really worked his butt off,” Smith said. “He’s got what it takes to be a very good offensive tackle, but now he has to carry it over into game ex-perience.
“He’s got a good head on his shoulders and knows that living in a fishbowl, there will be a lot of atten-tion and there will be a lot of people wishing him success and a lot wishing him to fail.
“Unfortunately, recruiting is like that, but Tyler’s done a good job of accepting his role. He knows he’s only one of 11 players out there at any given time.”
Senior tight end Austin Abernathy also returns, while junior tackle Matt Aldridge is a transfer from Coosa Christian.
The top three rushers from last season will return.
Senior Dantley Coker and Blake Devine and junior Holt Keeling combined for 2,460 yards and 24 touch-downs in 2012. Coker had 1,253 yards and 15 of those TDs.
“(Coker) is bigger and stronger (6-2, 230) but hasn’t lost any speed,” Smith said. “And (Devine) had a really good summer on the 7-on-7 camp circuit. He’s really stepped into the leadership role.”
Devine, who was named the 2012 All-Etowah County team’s Offensive Athlete of the Year, will play slot back as well as kick and punt returner. Smith described him as a “jack of all trades.”
Both Coker and Devine are getting looks from colleges.
Sophomore linebacker Hunter Armstrong, who led the team with 90 tackles last year, and defensive back Holt Keeling both “turned some heads” at summer camps, according to Smith.
More than 42 colleges were represented on the Southside campus this offseason.
With talent not a problem, Smith is worried about the pressure of expectations.
“At times, it seems they’re handling it well and at other times, not,” he said. “Even though we didn’t make the playoffs, we did have a winning record. I’m excited about the mentality of this team. If they do as well as they can, success is there for them.”
Larry Rose, Don Steward, Charles Nails, Chris Melton, Ron Daugherty, Skylar Nel-son, Kyle Routon, Delvin George, Trent Martin and Mike Habein comprise the assistant coaches.
For the complete 2013 Messenger Football Preview that includes team rosters, photos and schedules, purchase a copy of the Aug. 23 edition of The Messenger.