Sterlington dons pads for the first time Thursday morning with multiple positions up for grabs.
With several positions still undecided, the next few practices are critical for the Sterlington Panthers.
After working out in helmets and shorts for three days, the Panthers will make the transition to pads Thursday morning. That is when the real competition for job openings gets serious.
"You can still learn a lot about kids in shorts," Sterlington coach Lee Doty said. "You can see whether or not a kid runs to drills or fights through being tired."
However, the outcome of the positions battles will be determined by the first practices in pads.
"We have a lot of guys fighting for a few positions," Doty said. "Next week, we should have our depth chart settled. Right now, we're wide open with some positions."
In particular, the Panthers are looking for linemen on both sides of the ball.
Strongside tackle Noah Weatherly was the lone graduate on the offensive line. Strong guard Whit Buffington, center Landon Jinks and quick tackle Chandler Jones are all seniors, while quick guard Trey Rugg is a junior.
Besides the opening at Weatherly's former spot, the Panthers are hoping to come away from preseason camp with some depth.
"You can't have enough offensive linemen," Doty said. "We're looking for some guys who can play some snaps for us. We're still not 100 percent settled on the offensive line."
First-year starters will man the fullback, tailback and wide receiver positions. One position that is settled is quarterback as Carson Clowers returns for his senior season with junior Luke Denman as the backup.
"I feel like we're in good shape with Carson and Luke, as well," Doty said. "I feel really good about that position."
Sterlington must replace nose tackle Austin Goodson and end Kylan King on the defensive front. The next few days will determine who joins two incumbents, senior end Tanner Coley and junior tackle Chandler Moncrief. Colby Rivera, who saw significant time as a backup, also returns to the interior.
Depth is a concern on the defensive front.
"Something we're really searching for is some guys on the defensive line," Doty said. "That's one of the reasons we're looking at some three-man fronts. You can't play four defensive linemen if you only have three."
Not that the Panthers have an abundance of big bodies to choose from, but Doty is looking for athleticism at both positions.
"Our defensive linemen don't have to be big," Doty said. "We like them fast and mean. We don't have those big guys. We're looking for guys who play fast, mean and can tackle. We want kids out there who are going to give us 100 percent effort."
Seniors Dawson Snell, a 2016 All-State honoree, and Chase Carter return at the linebackers.
Junior cornerback Trey Eddins is the only holdover starter in the secondary, although several experienced backups are ready to step into the starting lineup.
"We're looking for some depth, defensively," Doty said. "We're looking for people who can come in and give us some good minutes, and tackle. We still have a lot of unanswered questions."
Doty, who was promoted to head coach when Jason Thompson accepted an assistant principal's position, likes what he has seen from the early practices.
"One thing I have really liked so far is the communication," Doty said. "We're practicing with some pride right now, and we can build on that."
CLOWERS' OFFERS: Carson Clowers has received baseball scholarship offers from Southeastern Louisiana and Shelton State (Alabama) Community College. Clowers helped the Panthers win the school's first state championships in football and baseball last year as a quarterback/shortstop.
MEET THE PANTHERS is set for Monday, August 14, at 6 p.m. in the main gym. Members of the football team and spirit groups will be introduced.
SCRIMMAGE: The Panthers will make their 2017 debut Thursday, August 17 when they host Cedar Creek in a preseason scrimmage.