Sterlington Panthers Football Preview

Since Jason Thompson was hired as Sterlington High's new head coach in January, an air of excitement has engulfed the football program. Much like the glory days when Principal Dell Ashley was head coach, you can't carry on a conversation anywhere in Sterlington nowadays without somebody bringing up the Panthers' football team.

With spring training and summer workouts behind them, the Panthers are ready to see some tangible results on Friday nights.

"From an accountability standpoint, I couldn't have asked for much better," Thompson said. "We had well over 80 percent participation in the summer (strength and conditioning) program."We'll see how the summer work carries on to the field and draw from it. We need some success early to see how the summer work has paid off. If we can start off well and see the summer work pay off, I think we'll really benefit from it."

Thompson says the Panthers' success will hinge on the offensive line.

"I've told them before, we'll go as far as they take us," Thompson said.

Center Tyler Buffington (6-1, 250, sr.) and right guard Conley Harris (6-0, 230, sr.) cracked the starting lineup as freshmen in 2010 and right tackle Chase Parks (6-1, 250, sr.) moved up to the first unit a year later. Harris, however, is expected to be out for a minimum of two weeks with a shoulder injury.
Converted defensive end Christian Carter (5-9, 185, sr.) claimed the left tackle spot in the spring.

Cole Maples (5-8, 190, sr.) and Logan Jinks (5-8, 225, jr.) are the guards.

Backups include Dylan Moore (6-6, 280, jr.) and Colton Harris (5-10, 210, so.).

Moore, who hasn't played football since the eighth grade, is an intriguing prospect.

"Dylan definitely passes the eye test," Thompson said. "He's shown flashes of greatness; he just has to be more consistent."

Inserted into the starting lineup following last year's 0-4 start, quarterback Devon Murphy (5-9, 165, so.) was 6-2 as a starter. He completed 25-of-40 passes for 394 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions. More importantly, he appears to be an ideal fit for offensive coordinator Bobby Breen's veer attack.

Rounding out the quarterback depth chart are Blake LaCaze (6-6, 195, sr.) and Dalton Dopson (5-10, 180, fr.).

Fullback Austin Haman (5-9, 195, sr.) and tailback Jaylon Wade (5-9, 165, sr.) were second and third, respectively, on the team in rushing last season.

Haman amassed 809 yards and 13 touchdowns on 102 carries before going down with a knee injury in the regular season finale. Wade produced 694 yards and 14 scores on 93 attempts. Also available in the backfield is JaQuarius Douglas (6-0, 180, sr.).

Rex Spencer (5-10, 175, sr.), QuenTerius Gray (5-11, 165, sr.) and Drew George (5-11, 155, sr.) are the wide receivers. Gray caught nine passes for 210 yards and four touchdowns last year, tops among the returnees.

Ross Lambert (6-1, 165, jr.) is the tight end.

Ends DeMarcus Matthews (6-2, 220, sr.) and Tristan VandeGevel (6-1, 185, sr.) are presently the only healthy returning defensive regulars. Matthews accounted for 51 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and two sacks, while VandeGavel contributed 35 stops and six tackles in the backfield last season. Cole Forbes (5-6, 200, jr.) is also in the mix at end.

Two defensive starters are currently on the injured list. Inside linebacker Cody McGuire (6-3, 230, sr.) continues to experience swelling in his surgically-repaired knee, while outside linebacker Trent Raffray (5-9, 165, sr.) is out until October after undergoing surgery for a torn labrum. A ULM commitment, McGuire led the Panthers with 126 tackles, an incredible 26 tackles for loss, three sacks and an interception. Raffray added 41 tackles, three tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and a pick.

Nick Naile (5-8, 185, sr.) and Sam Lowery (5-7, 200, jr.) are the tackles. Cedric Dyer (5-8, 310, so.) and Trey McDougle (5-9, 205, jr.) could also figure into the rotation.

Naile has been arguably the most pleasant surprise of preseason camp. After not playing last season, Naile achieved 100 percent weight room attendance over the summer.

"Really, at times, Nick has dominated on the defensive line," Thompson said. "We're looking for big things out of him."

Matthew Giddens (6-0, 180, sr.) and Calvin Clay (5-6, 151, sr.) are the inside linebackers with Austin Smith (5-7, 170, sr.) in reserve. Clay notched 18 tackles and three sacks in spot duty in 2012.

Luke Temple (5-5, 150, so.) and Aaron Crowe (5-6, 155, jr.) are the outside linebackers. Temple had 14 tackles in five games last year.

Douglas (6-0, 180, sr.) is the weakside 'backer with Samej Colvin (6-1, 180, so.) as the backup.

Jaylan King (5-8, 140, sr.) and Jordan Wheeler (5-11, 155, sr.) are listed as the starting cornerbacks, with Demontavious Heard (5-10, 170, fr.) waiting in the wings.

Jacob Morgan (5-9, 160, jr.) is the free safety, with Jacob Barr (5-10, 160, fr.) in relief.

Jacob Bringman (5-10, 145, sr.), an exchange student from Sweden, has won the kicking job. Prior experience wasn't necessary.

"Jacob knows to kick the ball through the uprights," Thompson said. "We were in a bind at kicker before he showed up. He's kind of shored up a weak spot for us."

Murphy or Dopson will handle the punting.

Buffington is the long snapper with LaCaze in charge of the holding.

Wade, Douglas and Heard could all return punts. Last season, Wade ran back a dozen punts for a 27.2-yard average.

Sterlington will scrimmage St. Frederick and Cedar Creek at the Panthers' Den on Friday (Aug. 23) at 6 p.m.

"We're just ready to bang on somebody else — just like everybody else," Thompson said. "I've said since I've been here that the willingness to work is there. I'm really interested in seeing how we compare to somebody else and I know the kids are, too.

"We look forward to getting film from the scrimmage. It'll be a good teaching tool for us and, hopefully, we'll be able to evaluate and see where we're at."