By Chris McCarthy
Southside High head football coach Ron Daugherty is well aware that his Panthers must make a bigger dent in its Class 6A, Region 7 schedule in order to play in a Week 11 game.
“I think that’s a driving force for these seniors,” said Daugherty. “In both of those seasons, we were at a point where we thought we had a chance to finish first or second in the region, and all of a sudden, we were out (of the playoffs). I believe that’s going to be fuel to do the extra work it takes to get back into the playoffs.”
If the offense does not quite require a complete overhaul, some major renovation must be done. Gone are the starting quarterback, halfback, fullback and receiver from last season.
“We have some kids who have been there that are working hard and getting ready to step in and contribute,” said Daugherty. “There’s also a lot of new guys out, so we’re looking forward to seeing what they can do. We feel good about what we’ve seen so far.”
Indeed, Daugherty said that there was a good chance that several players out of the Panthers’ 30-man freshman class could see the field on Friday nights this fall. He also noted that since the overall roster numbers are down this year, a number of players would likely pull double duty.
“We can’t be in a game and have one of our best athletes standing on the sidelines in crucial situations just because he’s su-pposed to play offense,” said Daugherty. “We want those kids to get to a point where they start on one unit and get in for 12 of 15 very important plays on the other side of the ball.”
Southside isn’t bereft of talent at the skill positions, however. Returning at running back is junior Kenneth Bothwell, who last year ran for 861 yards and eight touchdowns on the way to being named to the All-Re-gion team. Also back is senior Beau McConnell.
“That’s a pretty good backfield right there, and we see a lot of potential in a couple of younger guys,” said Daugherty. “The toughest thing is to get those kids to realize that we need them to do what a play is supposed to do instead of improvising. We don’t have a lot of backs who’ll have success being an east/west runner against the teams in our region.”
Although Gavin Griffin will be under center for the first time on varsity, Daugherty thinks the senior will perform well.
“He really hasn’t played any, but he’s worked hard from the get go since he came into the program as an eighth grader. He been working on his footwork and can make just about all the throws on the field. He’s really excited about his turn to lead the team.”
All-County and All-Region tight end Gavin Orr is back for his senior season. Several Ivy League schools are looking at the four-year starter.
“When you’ve got Harvard, Princeton and Yale coaches watching you practice, that says a lot about a kid, and not just on the football field,” said Daugherty, who added that senior Caleb Jacobs and Devin Laster will see time at receiver.
Several candidates are in the mix to join four-year starter Nick Shirley on the offensive line.
“Right now we have10 or 12 guys we’re looking at. The ones who’ll do exactly what we ask them to do and fight through the fourth quarter will be the ones who’ll be out there.”
Senior Tyler Abernathy returns to the defensive front four, along with John Mark Weaver.
“Tyler’s a very explosive player who’s strong and very quick off the ball,” said Daugherty.
Manning one of the linebacker spots will be senior Logan McGee, while senior Dylan Brooks will hold down the secondary.
“We have handful of new guys coming out that are battling to be back there,” said Daugherty.
Back at kicker is Nolan Johnson, who last year as a sophomore made 37-of-41 PAT attempts.
“Nolan’s been kicking all summer, and I’m anxious to see what he’ll do in game situations,” said Daugherty.
Oxford, Albertville, Brewer, Cullman, Fort Payne and Pell City make up Southside’s Class 6A, Region 7 competition.
“A lot of the teams in our region will have the ability to field a football team full of juniors and seniors,” said Daugherty. “Us on the other hand, we’re going to have a few sophomores and even a few freshmen out there. That’s one of the reasons we don’t play in a spring game, because we’ve got to get in as many practices as we can with those young guys.”
“Whether it’s 50 kids or 100 kids on the sideline, this is still Southside football,” said Daugherty. “We’ve got to execute on offense and take care of the football and not have penalties. If we play the type of ball where we run the ball and move the chains, we feel we can play with anybody.
“On defense, we have to line up right. If we don’t, it’s not going to be an eight-yard gain; it’s going to be a touchdown. If the teams we play against get their guys in space, it’s over. Bottom line is we can’t afford to shoot ourselves in the foot.”