Sterlington Football Preview
Returning only seven full-time returning starters from last year's 12-1 Class 3A state quarterfinalist team, the Sterlington Panthers are counting on a new wave of players to emerge.
Offensively, the Panthers must replace eight starters, including a two-year starting quarterback (Carson Clowers), a 1,600-yard rusher (Austin Dupree) and an All-State offensive lineman (Whit Buffington).
A permanent successor to Clowers, who was named MVP of the 2016 Class 2A Superdome Classic after directing the Panthers to the first state championship in school history, has yet to be named.
Sophomore Brody Green and junior Hayes Crockett will continue to split time in Friday night's regular season opener against West Ouachita.
Seniors Malik Davis and Idris Enoch are the fullbacks with senior C.J. Colvin and junior Dallas Reagor (66 carries, 491 yards, 4 touchdowns), the team's top returning rusher, at tailback.
Colvin and Davis, the Panthers' top two tailbacks at this time last year, both went down with ankle injuries in Week 1. Colvin underwent surgery and never returned, and Davis played only sparingly the rest of the way.
Any doubts about Colvin's health were erased in a preseason scrimmage against Cedar Creek when the explosive 5-11, 190-pounder went off for 177 yards and four touchdowns on just six carries. He rushed for 37 yards, including a 31-yard TD, on five attempts in last Friday's 29-13 Bayou Jamb loss to Class 4A Bastrop.
Starting in place of the injured Dupree, Reagor went over 100 yards in back-to-back outings against Calvary Baptist and Carroll. In the jamboree, he was the Panthers' leading ground gainer with 54 yards on five carries, highlighted by a 31-yard TD jaunt.
Other possibilities in the backfield are junior Jordan Townsend (44-186-6), who has switched to linebacker, and sophomore Zach Crain.
"Jordan Townsend started at fullback late last year. There is always a possibility he could move back to fullback if things don't go as planned," second-year head coach Lee Doty said. "Crain had a heck of a preseason. He can play tailback or fullback, and is going to get some carries."
Seniors Clay Vaughn and Reid Handy are the wide receivers, along with junior Layton Rainbolt. Junior Hixson Street is the new tight end.
Senior tackle Trey Rugg and junior guard Brock Risinger return on the strong side with senior Jack Anderson taking over on a full-time basis at quick tackle. Last year, the trio helped clear the path for a rushing attack which averaged 293.8 yards per game and 6.9 yards per carry.
Junior Braden Bruscato and senior Tyler Hitt slide into starting roles at center and quick guard, respectively.
Doty has high expectations for the group.
"It's a junior-senior bunch that I think will get better every day," Doty said of the offensive line. "I think at some point early this year, they are going to be dang good."
Also available on offense:
Quarterback — sophomore Grant Mangrum.
Fullback — freshman Bryce Lark.
Tailback — freshmen J'Keldrick Miller and Larry Rogers.
Tight end — freshman Nick Whittington.
Wide receiver — senior Ryan Griggs, junior Oren Keller, sophomores Parker Coley and Jacob Shields, and freshmen Nathan Husser, Donte Parker, Chase Mitchell, Colby Neitz, Dalton Harger, Jackson Porter, Luke Handy, Antonio Taylor and Grant Hanna.
Offensive line — seniors Kyle Elee and Carson Fowler, juniors Matthew Husser, Ryan Mora, Jacob Smith and Tyler Scott, sophomores Devan Henderson, Adam Parnell, Joby Guthrie, Hayden Westbrooks and Dalton Bullard, and freshmen Jordan Johnson, Demariyé Hutchinson, Brendon McNair and Seth Vaan-Zile.
End Justin Fuller (32 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 3 sacks) and nose tackle Colby Rivera (44 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks), a pair of holdover starters, both had strong preseasons. Fuller, who intercepted a screen pass in the backfield to set up the Panthers' first touchdown, was recognized as Sterlington's MVP of the Bayou Jamb.
Filling out the front four are senior Bryce Still and junior Luke Carmichael.
"Colby and Justin are playing well, and anchoring the defensive line for us," Doty said.
Depth is a concern on both fronts.
"We have no depth there," Doty said. "Our depth on the defensive line comes from the offensive line. If we get in an injury situation on the defensive line, we have to start pulling guys from our offensive line. If we get in an injury situation on the offensive line, we have to start pulling guys from the defensive line."
All three linebackers — Dawson Snell, Chase Carter and Bailyn McCoin — graduated. Snell, the Class 3A Defensive MVP, was the undisputed heart and soul of the Panthers' defense for the past two years.
"Nobody is ever going to fill Dawson's shoes," Doty said in the spring. "He's a once in a generation player."
Townsend, seniors Willie Holloway (18 tackles) and Tyler Kaffenberger (17 tackles, 1 sack), junior Seth Temple and freshman Ram Foster are the top candidates at linebacker.
"Our linebackers are getting better," Doty said. "We didn't play very well Friday night against Bastrop, but I think we'll be better this week."
Foster and safety Cole Thompson both saw extensive action against Bastrop.
Brothers Trey and Dorian Eddins have the corners locked down. Trey, a senior, logged 46 tackles and a team-high three interceptions in 2017. Dorian was in on 38 tackles with two stops in the backfield and a pair of picks as a sophomore.
"I thought both of those guys played really good against Bastrop," Doty said.
Junior free safety Reece Brooks is out for 4-6 weeks after breaking his collarbone in the Bayou Jamb. With Brooks out, Cole Jones (55 tackles, 1 TFL) has returned to safety from linebacker, with Thompson as the backup.
Senior Landon Green also played significant minutes in the secondary last week.
Doty is hoping others will earn more playing time in the weeks ahead.
"It's still so early in the year," Doty said. "We are still looking for some guys to come in and play for us."
Other candidates for action:
Defensive line — senior Garrett Roberson, juniors Braden Hough, Lane Atwell and Nick Dupree, sophomores Dylan Barber, Landon Green and Matthew King, and freshmen Cameron Rivera, Peyton Parks-Smith, Caleb Andrews and Edmun Williams.
Linebacker — sophomore Carson Allen and freshmen Cameron Trichell and Jacob Kleckler.
Strong safety — junior Kaleb Gentry and sophomore Matthew Miers.
Defensive back — senior Seth McNew, junior Ty'Reese Mitchell, sophomore Armond Mills, and freshmen Armond Mills, Larry Rogers and Sway Elajarde.
Free safety — sophomore Michael Patten.
Senior Landon Green will handle the place kicking with Vaughn assuming punting duties. Virtually automatic on PATs last season, Green converted 59-of-61 attempts.
Rainbolt, who had a 60-yard punt return wiped out by a debatable call in the jamboree, and Dorian Eddins are the return men. Dorian Eddins averaged 22.6 yards on eight kickoff returns last year.
Aug. 31 West Ouachita
Sept. 7 at Ouachita Christian
Sept. 14 at Oak Grove
Sept. 21 Loyola
Sept. 28 Calvary Baptist
Oct. 5 at Carroll*
Oct. 12 Wossman* (HC)
Oct. 19 at Madison Parish*
Oct. 26 at Union Parish*
Nov. 1 Richwood* (Thurs.)