Young Panthers have large cleats to fill

Published 4:59 pm Friday, April 22, 2016

The rebuilding process has begun at Georgiana School as the Panthers look to put together the puzzle pieces for success among a pool of young but talented players.

Fortunately for Georgiana head football Coach Ezell Powell, he seems pleased by his team’s potential, if day-one expectations are anything to go by.

Wednesday marked the first day of spring training for a Panthers team with a rather large group of seniors leaving the team.

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Jacquez Payton, Richard Boggan, Demarcus Rich, Dequan Crenshaw and more have left a sizable vacancy that needs filling.

Their absences appear to be felt most on the defensive end, but Powell is hopeful that candidates exist among his remaining players.

“We have quite a lot of new guys that come out, but mostly it’s guys from last year who are in positions to be counted on now, versus when we were counting on our seniors while those guys were the backups last year,” Powell said.

“And we’re seeing if they can actually handle being in that role and execute. It’s one of those things were you won’t really be able to tell until the end of spring or the fall season.”

Fortunately, the Panthers were able to put several games away early last season, which allowed younger players to get some much-needed experience in game situations.

“That was one of the things that really helped us last year, and it’s something I think will help us again this year,” Powell added.

“We played so many young guys last year and, while I won’t say they’re seasoned veterans, they have some experience.  And when you’ve got guys that have done it before and done it consistently, they feel a whole lot better about it when they’re out on the field.”

Though this year’s team doesn’t seem as explosive as last season’s, Powell added that they accommodate for that lack of explosiveness in one impressive way.

“But the one thing I like about these kids is what we call ‘the grind,’” Powell said. “They grind, get nasty and get physical when they have to, and that wins ballgames.”

If there’s one thing Georgiana’s football program has continuously proven, it’s the folly in underestimating their younger players.

Two of last year’s biggest contributors—quarterback Ja’Michael Stallworth and running back Cameron Longmore, both sophomores—were a commanding presence in the Panthers’ backfield.

Though they’ve lost a great deal of their supporting cast, the onus is now on many other young Panthers to step up and fill those sizeable cleats this year’s senior class has left behind.

“They know we’re going to lean on them heavily, but we’re asking other guys around them to step up and be playmakers beside them and take some of the pressure off of them.”

The team will alternate days of full contact as per Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) regulations, which will also give Powell time to lead the Lady Panthers’ softball team to a productive playoff season.

The 10-day spring training session will culminate in a McKenzie-hosted countywide jamboree featuring the Tigers of both McKenzie and Greenville, as well as the Panthers.

Powell said that it’s a wonder the idea hadn’t been thought of before, given how much each team stands to gain.

“And it also gives a great gift to the county,” Powell said.  “Everybody gets together to watch the kids play and cheer them on, and it also has the ability to get a little financial gain.  All three schools will split the gate and everyone will get something out of it.”

The Butler County jamboree is currently slated for May 7 at 6 p.m.