Pictured, kneeling, from left: Tyler Green, Brady Lockmiller, Hunter Johnson, Daimon Hitchcock, Carson Riddlespur, Maddox Parsons, Tucker Pearce, Ben Copeland. Standing, from left: Jacob Davis, John Gilbert, Zane Pruitt, Jake Janson, Ethan Light, Taylor Carr, Spencer Sharpe, Harry Glenn, Broady Johnson, Davis Lawley.
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Southside’s first-year head football coach has a straightforward response when asked of his expectations for the 2021 Panthers.
“We want to win it,” said Miles Holcomb, a 2005 Crossville High graduate. “I don’t know any other way to say it. If we don’t win it, I’ll be disappointed, and I think everybody up here is going to be disappointed. It is what it is. We’ve got who we’ve got, and we don’t need anybody else.”
Holcomb was hired in early March to replace Gary Nelson, who guided the 2020 Panthers to 7-4 record, a berth in the Class 6A state playoffs and a victory over county rival Etowah for the first time in four years. Two of Southside’s region losses were by one point.
The Panthers took a significant hit at the skills positions with the loss of quarterback Michael Rich, halfback Carnel Davis and receiver Aulden Battles, all three of whom were All-State and All-Region selections. However, Holcomb pointed out that the 18 members of the senior class are no slouches.
“Everybody knows the group that we lost last year was a pretty talented and athletic group, but since I got to know this senior group we’ve got coming back, that not only are they special – probably more special than people give them credit for because of the group they played behind – but I think they’ve got something to prove. They’ve got a little bit of a chip on their shoulder.”
Sophomore Gauge Nesmith, who played safety last season, steps in for Rich at signal caller.
“Gauge is pretty mature to be a sophomore, but he’s picked it up well,” said Holcomb. “His job is a little bit different than a lot of people. He’s got to know what everybody’s supposed to do, and he’s still learning like everybody else is. But he has high expectations.”
Junior Maddox Parsons and senior Tyler Green will attempt to fill the backfield void created by Davis’ departure.
“People are going to downplay the fact that Maddox and Tyler are back there because we’ve lost Carnel,” said Holcomb. “I think some people will be surprised with how good of backs those two guys are.”
Returning at receiver is senior Cody Roberts, who last year had 34 receptions for 754 yards and four touchdowns, and junior Daimon Hitchcock. Seniors John William Gilbert and Tucker Pierce return to the offensive line.
Holcomb’s offensive philosophy promotes tempo, tempo and more tempo.
“We want to make defenses have to cover every single blade of grass from sideline to sideline, then we’re going to stretch people vertically. Sometimes we go super-fast and sometimes we don’t. It’s all based off personnel placement.”
Defensively, senior Ethan Light returns at end. Senior Spencer Sharpe, who had 75 tackles last tear, is back at linebacker and seniors Taylor Car and Broady Johnson return to the secondary.
“We’ve found a way to be able to platoon guys,” said Holcomb. “We don’t have any two-way players, which has been extremely beneficial for us.”
The Panthers’ Region 7 competition remains Pell City, Arab, Oxford, Springville, Fort Payne and Scottsboro.
“Obviously, playing 6A football is no easy task,” said Holcomb. “I know how talented those teams are. We tell our guys all the time, we just want to be focused on us. We want to celebrate our success, but we don’t want to celebrate our success at somebody else’s expense.”
Although the high school is located in Southside, Holcomb does not want Rainbow City to be an afterthought.
“We’ve got two cities that do the same thing. We’ve got two groups of kids and two pee wee [football] programs. Our program is about creating relationships and connections with each other, on both sides of the [Coosa] river.
“The people that you get to build connections with on a daily basis, you can’t put a price tag on that. So being able to come to a place like Southside and Rainbow City and being able to build those relationships with the guys that are here, that’s the most important thing for me.”
Staff writer Emma Kirkemier contributed to this article.