SOUTHSIDE SENIORS. Pictured, kneeling, from left: Mahmood Abbassi, Zeke Hefner, Coleman Scales, Darryance Wofford, Jance Vaughn, Gage Lowman. Standing, from left: Austin Schatz, Colton Morrison, Bailey Sparks, Nolan Johnson, Malachi Leath, Chance Moon. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Answer: 4,613 yards and 51 touchdowns.
Question: What did Southside’s recently graduated standout halfback produce over the past four seasons?
Welcome to the post-Ke-nneth “Cat” Bothwell era, Panther fans.
Suffice to say, head coach Ron Daugherty spent much of the past offseason evaluating which players could help fill that void in the offensive backfield.
“We’re don’t have anyone that fits Cat’s role as of yet, but we do have some young guys stepping up to fill that position, and I feel comfortable with them.”
Two of those candidates are junior Blake Reed, who last season finished with 1,016 combined yards in rushing, receiving and kickoff returns, and junior Carnell Davis.
“Blake’s a different type of back then Kenneth was, and he’s definitely a factor in the passing game. He’s also got good size and blocks well. Carnell has worked really hard this summer and put on a little more size. I’m anxious to see what both kids can do.”
With Bothwell as the team 2018 leader in both ru-shing and receiving, quarterback Michael Rich will be relied upon more heavily this season. As a sophomore last year, Rich last year passed for 953 yards and eight touchdowns.
“Michael’s got a year’s worth of experience under his belt, both in games and workouts, so I expect that to show this season. There’s a lot of things we don’t have to tell him that we had to tell him last year. He grew up and we hope he continues to grow and improve.”
Going into the season, it appears that the strength of the offense will be the front five with most of the unit returning in juniors Garrett Orr, Dakota Stevenson and junior tackle Will Warwick along with junior tight end Hayden Robertson.
“Those guys were light years away from starting last year against Lincoln [in Week 1], and their improvement was part of the reason we got better as the year went along. It’s never an effort issue with that group; it’s about them learning and doing the right things, and they’re way ahead of where they were last year at this point in those areas.”
It’s no secret who the strength of the defense will be. Despite facing double and triple teams in most games, senior tackle Chance Moon finished the 2018 season with 74 tackles, including seven for a loss. His production was a big reason why Southside rebounded from a 1-4 start to finish second in the region and made it to the second round of the state playoffs for the first time since 2014.
However, all three of Moon’s 2018 linemates have graduated.
“All three of those guys were undersized but were able to do what we asked them to do,” said Daugherty. “If our other defensive linemen don’t step up, Chance will always be doubled. So right now that’s our biggest need.”
The linebacker unit should be strong in the middle with senior Zeke Hefner, who led the team in tackles with 120, including seven for a loss.
“Zeke’s a good player who works his tail off and leads by example,” said Daugherty, who pointed to senior Austin Schatz and junior Hayden Fry in contributing at the position.
Experience is also a concern in the defensive backfield, as senior Colton Morrison (33 tackles, four interceptions in 2018) is the lone returning starter. Daugherty sees sophomore Brody Johnson and junior Jason Garrett as strong candidates for the secondary.
Good field position should not be an issue for the Panthers with senior kicker/punter Nolan Johnson back for his senior season. Johnson was a second-team Class 5A All-State selection last season after making field goals of 29 and 34 yards, 36 of 39 extra point attempts and 24 touchbacks. He punted for 940 yards and a 36.2 average and had eight punts downed inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
Daugherty estimated that 75 percent of Nolan’s kickoffs over the last half of last season went either into the end zone or out of the end zone.
“We need Nolan to start the year like that. His mentality when he [attempts] a field goal [is that] it could be for the game-winner or we could be up 30-0; the look on his face is always the same, no matter what. His punts are never one of those spiral, end-over-end punts, but he kicks the heck out of the ball and has a really good hang time. Nolan can do the job; he’s just got to put in the work to where he can do it consistently. But he definitely has the leg to kick at the next level.”
The Panthers once again face Etowah, Sardis, Alexandria, Boaz, Crossville and Douglas in Class 5A, Region 7 action.
“Etowah always has good athletes and I think Alexandria will be tough,” said Daugherty. “Sardis brought a lot of guys back on one side of the ball, and Boaz will still be huge up front. It’s similar to what I told our kids last year – there’s a few teams you’ve got to beat to get into the playoffs, and depending on which teams you beat, that’s how the seeding will work out.”