By Chris McCarthy
Southside High head football coach Ron Daugherty was very pleased with the attendance and effort in the program’s offseason workouts. He also noted that the roster would not be in the triple digits as it has the past few years, which means that more players will see action on both sides of the ball.
“Our kids are real good about showing up and working hard and are eager to get better. Every year, we evaluate the [offseason workouts] see what we can change up and do better on, and this year we focused on conditioning.”
After starting the year at 5-2, the 2015 Panthers ended the season on a three-game skid that cost Southside a spot in the postseason for the first time in Daugherty’s three years as coach.
“We always preach about finishing the play and finishing a drive, and last year we let things get to us and didn’t finish the season like we should have,” he said.
“You can work and get our body ready, but if your mind’s not there, in the end you’re not going to be able to perform.”
As it has in the past two seasons, the Southside rushing attack is spearheaded by Alaric Williams, an Auburn University commitment who as a junior last season ran for 1,175 yards and 11 touchdowns and had 13 catches for five scores.
“I see Alaric continuing to grow and get better,” said Daugherty. “He’s been playing with us since the ninth grade, so there’s not a whole lot that we’re going to do different with him. He also does tremendous things for us as a leader, and the biggest thing he can do is go out there every day and work hard. When a guy who is a big recruit like Alaric is working his butt off, all the other kids fall right in.”
Williams’s backfield mate returns in senior fullback Baylon Fry, who last season ran for 610 yards and seven touchdowns. Also expected to see action are juniors Kevon Carlisle and Beau McConnell and sophomore Kenneth Bothwell.
“We feel good about that position; what we don’t feel good about is if something happens,” said Daugherty. “If there’s just about any kind of injury, some kid is going to have to play some both ways.”
2015 starter Triston Shaw is back at quarterback. He threw for 695 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior. Junior Gavin Griffin is the backup.
The receiving corps features All-County junior tight end Gavin Orr. Senior Landon Thompson, who will start in the defensive backfield, will also see action.
Three starters return up front – seniors Drake Stewart and Jonathan Barnhard and junior Nick Shirley. Senior Jordan Kilgo, who transferred in from Westbrook Christian, will see action.
The defense will feature a number of greenhorns, as the only returning starters are senior All-County safety Austin Winningham (44 tackles in 2015), senior nose guard Tyler Abernathy (43 tackles, four sacks) and senior safety Adam Lister.
“Our offense is going to have to do a good job of possessing the football and letting those guys [on defense] grow up,” said Daugherty. “We want to keep the defense off the field as much as possible.”
Freshman Nolan Johnson, a member of the school’s soccer team, will be the kicker.
Assistant coaches are Don Seward, Paul Hawk, Robby Davis, Skylar Robinett and Jason Kilgo.
The Panthers’ Class 6A, Region 7 opponents are Albertville, Brewer, Cullman, Fort Payne, Oxford and Pell City. Oxford is ranked No. 6 in the ASWA preseason poll.
“Three of those schools (Cullman, Oxford and Pell City) very rarely have a sophomore on the field, and with us, we’ve got to play both sophomores and freshmen, so that’s a big difference. Fort Payne did very well last year, and coach [Dale] Pruett always does a great job with Albertville.”
Daugherty is looking forward to the Panthers’ regular season finale on Oct. 28 against Glencoe, which is coached by his old Hokes Bluff High teammate, Rusty Davis.
‘We’re good friends, and he’ll do a good job over there,” said Daugherty. “We’ve never been on the field together as coaches, so it should be exciting.”