There has been no loss of optimism at Smiths Station as the Panthers look to replace 32 seniors from last year’s team and return only one player with full-time starting experience.
“Everybody, all the seniors here and everything, we just want to show everybody that we’re just as good as last year and even better,” senior offensive lineman Sean McNair said Wednesday morning at a practice. “We want to win more than seven games, go farther in the playoffs and hopefully win a state championship.”
The Panthers will have some big shoes to fill as they lost QB Michael Nolin and RB Lorenzo Betties to graduations. The pair combined for 2,464 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2010. But Smiths Station coach Mark Rose said he feels confident the offensive line and some newcomers — particularly senior RB Marco McCants and sophomore QB Jerell Gilmore — can step in and compete at that level.
“We feel good about our offensive line,” Rose said. “We’re probably a little bit bigger there. We ran the football pretty well in the spring. We’ve got Marco at running back, who had a great spring game, and a young quarterback in Jerell Gilmore, who is a 10th grader, who has played really well this summer. I think we can control the football, and we’ve just got to keep getting better.”
McCants ready to step up
The frontrunner for the starting running back position appears to be McCants, who took most of the reps while I was at practice on Wednesday morning. He said he knew he had big shoes to fill following behind Betties but had picked up some good work habits and tips from him last season.
“(Betties) had a great season and I just hope to come behind him and do as good as he did or maybe even better,” McCants said.
“... (From Betties) I learned hardness and running the ball tough, and always cover it up, and just trust your blockers.”
The Panthers host Hardaway at 7 p.m. Aug. 18 in a preseason scrimmage and begin the regular season at Russell County on Aug. 26. The Panthers will be fighting for a postseason spot again in Class 6A Region 3, which is home to Central-Phenix City, Auburn, Dothan, Enterprise, Northview and Opelika.
“You know, we do have a great region,” Rose said. “You’re always talking about Auburn, Central-Phenix City and Opelika having outstanding, talented football teams, and they return quite a few. Enterprise is tough, so is Dothan, too. So there won’t be any weeks off.”
Aug. 18 — Smiths Station vs. Hardaway (scrimmage), 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 — Smiths Station at Russell County, 8 p.m.
Sept. 1 — Smiths Station vs. Shaw (at Kinnett Stadium), 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 9 — Smiths Station vs. Opelika, 8 p.m. *
Sept. 16 — Smiths Station vs. Dothan, 8 p.m. *
Sept. 23 — Smiths Station at Eufaula, 8 p.m.
Sept. 30 — Smiths Station vs. Enterprise, 8 p.m. *
Oct. 7 — Smiths Station at Northview, 8 p.m. *
Oct. 14 — Smiths Station at Auburn, 8 p.m. *
Oct. 21 — Smiths Station at Central-Phenix City, 8 p.m. *
Oct 28 — Smiths Station at Valley, 8 p.m.
* Class 6A Region 3 game
Coming up in the Ledger-Enquirer
If you're wondering how your favorite team is doing leading up to kickoff, keep checking back. I'll be going to one or two practices just about every weekday for the next two weeks or so until I have hit all 17 Bi-City schools. I'll be posting blogs, photos and videos as I visit each one, but the featured stories about the teams will begin running one a day in the Ledger-Enquirer's print edition beginning Saturday and running in reverse alphabetical order. Here's the schedule of which days you can find which team's story in print:
Aug. 6: Spencer
Aug. 7: Smiths Station (Blog, video and photos online here)
Aug. 8: Shaw (Blog, video and photo gallery online here)
Aug. 9: Russell County
Aug. 10: Pacelli
Aug. 11: Northside
Aug. 12: Kendrick
Aug. 13: Jordan
Aug. 14: Harris County
Aug. 15: Hardaway
Aug. 16: Glenwood
Aug. 17: Columbus
Aug. 18: Chattahoochee County
Aug. 19: Central-Phenix City
Aug. 20: Carver
Aug. 21: Calvary Christian
Aug. 22: Brookstone
Aug. 23: 2011 Ledger-Enquirer Dandy Dozen team announced
Have any particularly interesting questions you want me to a coach or player? Have something you'd like to read about on the blog? Have a story suggestion? Paste it in the comments or send it in an email to email@example.com and I'll do my best to get to your request when I visit that team's practice.