By Gene Stanley/Messenger Sports Correspondent
The game is still football, but at Southside they’re also playing a numbers game.
Starting this, Marty Smith’s second season as head coach, there are 37 freshmen and 82 seventh- and eighth-graders. Those numbers certainly bode well for the future.
“You expect to have good numbers your first year,” Smith said. “But to have that many youngsters come out in your second season, after posting a 3-7 record, is pretty incredible to me. We had a huge learning curve last year but to me, those numbers say we did something right.”
Southside finished last season with only 52 on the team, freshmen through seniors. There are 94 in that category on the roster right now.
Other pertinent numbers, ones that will mean more for 2012, are 10-of-11 defensive starters returning and seven-of-11 offensive starters back.
“The experience these guys were able to attain last year is immeasurable,” Smith said. “A lot of them got to see what it’s like to be in games, and not just in garbage time.”
Over the last five games of 2011, there were 13 sophomores, four freshmen and an eighth-grader on the field for Southside.
Something the Panthers are doing isn’t seen much these days in larger schools – using the Wing-T offense.
“It’s rare and I think that makes it harder to defend, for one game,” Smith said. “Most teams play against the spread week in and week out, but now they’ve got to prepare for the Wing-T and they only have a week to practice for it.”
Heading up the offense for the third consecutive season will be senior Patrick Lister.
“Patrick is a good runner and passer,” Smith said. “He’s hard to defend. But the biggest difference is that last year, he really became a student of the game and learned a lot.
“Now, he’s quit thinking and is just playing. It’s helped his reaction time because he’s not taking that half-second to think about what he’s going to do. And he’s really taken hold of what we’re trying to accomplish with this offense.”
Daulton Coker will line up at fullback, with Blake Devine running as well as receiving.
“Blake’s our guy we line up everywhere,” Smith said. “He led us in receiving yards last season and he’ll line up in the backfield some. He will also return kicks and punts.”
Smith feels good about the offensive and defensive lines, saying they’ll be strengths of the team.
Look for big things from linebacker Hunter Armstrong, who was last year’s tackle leader even though he was playing as an eighth-grader.
Same with Holt Keeling, who as a freshman was second in tackles from his strong safety position.
Last season’s leader in sacks and tackles for loss – defensive tackle Tyler Carr – will also be just a sophomore this year.
Cody Pylant, a senior, led in interceptions last year.
“Cody’s really done a good job of leading,” Smith said. “He’s really taken hold of the secondary.”
Then there’s linebacker Hunter Nobles, a senior who Smith said is getting a lot of recruiting looks from smaller schools.
“Hunter is a very intelligent player,” Smith said. “He’s already scored high on his ACT and on the football field, you can tell his smarts if you watch him.”
Nobles is a bit undersized at 5-8, 180, but according to Smith, plays bigger.
There are a couple of freshmen soccer players vying for the kicking job. Smith is also Southside’s soccer coach, so he expects good things every year in that department.
“Playing the Wing-T, you don’t get as many scoring opportunities as other offenses,” Smith said. “Therefore, you have to have a sound kicking game. And it reciprocates because playing ball-control, the opposition doesn’t get as many chances, either.”
There will be some differences in the region this year, as Madison County and Albertville moved up to 6A. Replacing them are Brewer and Columbia.
“Until someone knocks off Fort Payne and Etowah, they’re kings of the hill,” Smith said. “Everybody is gunning for them, but I think the rest of the region is sort of balanced. Any of us could contend for the other two playoff slots.”
Assistant coaches are Kyle Routon, Don Steward, Jeremy Edwards, Delvin George, Ron Daugherty, Charles Nails, Chris Melton, Brandon Booker, Larry Rose, Todd Stingley, Wendell Clark and Brian Coker.
Aug. 30 – Hokes Bluff
Sept. 7 – @Columbia*
Sept. 14 – Scottsboro*
Sept. 21 – @Fort Payne*
Sept. 28 – Springville
Oct. 5 – @Arab*
Oct. 12 – Boaz*
Oct. 19 – @Etowah*
Oct. 26 – Brewer*
Nov. 2 – @Moody
* Region game
Oneonta 28, Southside 7
Albertville 53, Southside 22
Southside 24, Scottsboro 21
Fort Payne 52, Southside 3
Southside 17, Shelby Co. 14
Arab 35, Southside 20
Boaz 20, Southside 0
Etowah 44, Southside 15
Madison Co. 41, Southside 35
Southside 13, Hokes Bluff 11