Photo courtesy of Chris Westcott
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
After two straight seasons of one-and-done appearances in the Class 6A state football playoffs, Southside has its eye on a more extended stay in the postseason now that the Panthers are back in 5A.
“Southside has been playing football since 1928, and it never had three playoff teams in a row,” said second-year head coach Miles Holcombe. “So this senior class has the opportunity to leave its own legacy.”
Gone are Oxford, Pell City, Arab, Fort Payne and Scottsboro from the Panthers’ region slate. In are Lincoln, St. Clair County, Leeds, Alexandria and Moody. Springville dropped down to 5A along with Southside.
Holcombe put together a tough non-region schedule with Guntersville, Boaz and longtime neighboring rival Etowah.
“We knew how tough our region was going to be, so we wanted to start out with someone (Guntersville) who we might see later on in the playoffs,” said Holcombe. “If we want to find out where we are and find ways to get better, let’s put ourselves in situations against really good football teams and see how we measure up.”
Southside lost 14 seniors, most of them major contributors to the team’s 2021 postseason run.
“We lost some good players, but we’re excited about the guys we have coming back on both sides of the ball,” said Holcombe. “We’re also excited about the new guys coming in. We should have a pretty experienced group by the time we roll out there on August 19.”
Among the key returnees is All-Region and All-County Offensive MVP quarterback Gauge NeSmith, whose 2021 numbers included 2,167 passing and rushing yards along with 21 touchdowns.
Also back is Nesmith’s favorite target in All-Region and All-County senior Cody Roberts, who had 39 catches for 809 yards and seven TDs. Another prime option at receiver is sophomore Cayden McMichael, who had 22 receptions for 303 yards.
“The five receivers we have are are all veterans, and I’m willing to bet that this might be one of the most talented wide receiver groups that ever came through this school,” said Holcombe.
At running back is junior Everett Grizzard.
Three starers are back on the offensive line, including All-Region and All-County senior center Jacob Strunk.
Southside only return four starters on defense, but they are good ones. Senior All-Region and All-County Defensive MVP Jerrod Harden last season finished with 47 tackles, including nine for a loss, and 18 quarterback pressures at defensive end. Junior middle linebacker Titan Rich had 104 tackles, including 14 for a loss, and four sacks. Sophomore linebacker Koal Garrett contributed 54 tackles last season, while senior cornerback Smiley Jones had 23 tackles and two interceptions.
“The the good thing is that the other seven guys have rolled right in and are doing what they’re supposed to do,” said Holcombe. “Our defensive staff does a great job of teaching things the right way. The communication in the secondary has gotten a lot better.”