The senior class that led the Panthers to the second round of the Class 1A playoffs last year included the school’s career rushing leader and five of the six tackling leaders for 2012.
Lack of experience and lack of depth were going to be issues in 2013 even before a rash of injuries struck. Now the situation has become critical. Way too many players will start on both offense and defense.
A number of projected starters and all the prospects for relief are junior high students.
“We’ve just got to be healthy,” Spring Garden head coach Jason Howard said of the coming season.
“We’ve got to stay completely healthy from here on out and some of those young kids are going to have to grow up fast and I mean real fast because those big games (against Gaylesville and Valley Head) to be in the playoff mix are going to happen quick,” Howard added.
The Panthers host Gaylesville on Sept. 6 to open their Class 1A, Region 7 schedule, then travel to Valley Head for another region game the next Friday.
Senior Will Ivey returns at quarterback and will start the season there. He is the only returning starter in the backfield.
Ivey’s backup will be freshman and brother Ben Ivey. Kris Holcomb will be the wingback, Matt Mullinax the fullback and Kyle Reese the tailback. All three are juniors. Freshman Quintin Downey will be the backup at fullback.
Returning starters senior Zack Dobbs, at center, and sophomore Sam Parris, at tackle, will anchor the line. At 6-foot-2 and 275 pounds, Parris will be the Panthers’ biggest lineman.
Hunter Crider will be at left guard and Hunter Bondie at right guard. Crider played as a reserve last year. Bondie, who weighs in at 215 pounds, suffered a broken arm early in the 2012 season that shut him down most of the year.
Sophomore Corey Williams will be at left tackle. Sophomore Ethan Rogers will be the reserve lineman. Junior Dalton Kerr is the tight end. Freshmen Joe Price will be the split end. Chase Jennings, Dylan Short, Austin Shell and Ben Ivey will also see time at the split end.
On defense, Spring Garden will use a five-man front as its base. The ends will be Bondie, a starter there last year before his injury, and Crider. Parris and senior Kyle Barfield, another 200-pounder, will be the tackles. At nose tackle will be sophomore Colton Livingston. At 6-4 and 270, Livingston has size but it’s his first year to play football.
Rogers will be the reserve at tackle. Kerr and junior Morgan Twilley, recovering from an injury, are the backups at end.
In the middle of the trio of linebackers will be Downey. Dobbs and Holcomb will be on the outside. Williams is the relief at linebacker.
Will Ivey and Reese are the cornerbacks and Ben Ivey is the safety. Price will spell them.
Howard said freshmen Dawson Broome and Taylor Hardin and eighth-graders Ryan Poole and Eason Reese “could get thrown into the mix pretty quick” to give two-way starters an occasional break. Broome is an end on both offense and defense. Reece, Poole and Hardin are linemen.
Spring Garden at a glance Head coach: Jason Howard (38-48 in eight years at Spring Garden; 43-63 overall, including 5-15 in two years at Ohatchee.)
Last year’s record: 9-3, including 6-2 and third place in Class 1A, Region 7. Lost in the second round of the state playoffs.
Outlook: Inexperience will handicap Spring Garden early. If the younger players develop quickly, don’t be surprised if Howard makes some personnel moves that add bite to the offense. To make a second consecutive playoff appearance, Spring Garden will need wins over at least two of these — Cedar Bluff, Collinsville, Donoho, Gaylesville, Valley Head – and must defeat Coosa Christian, Jacksonville Christian and Woodville. Not easy but not impossible.
Aug. 30, at Fayetteville
Sept. 6, Gaylesville
Sept. 13, at Valley Head
Sept. 20, Coosa Christian
Sept. 27, at Jacksonville Christian
Oct. 4, at Woodville
Oct. 11, Collinsville
Oct. 18, Donoho
Oct. 25, at Cedar Bluff
Nov. 1, Talladega County Central