Tuesday, December 07, 2010

SPORTS >> Brain power lifts Panthers to awards list

Leader sports editor

Cabot coach Mike Malham thinks he has unlocked the secret of the Panthers’ success during the 2010 football season.

Malham looked at the all-state and all-conference data scattered on his desk Monday, and while he had the requisite amount of praise for his entire group of selectees — including all-state choices Nathan Cash, Zach Brown, Riley Hawkins and Mason James — Malham focused in on the 18 academic all-conference selections.

“That’s more than we’ve ever had,” Malham said as he examined the list. “I think last year we had about 12, before that we had about 10. We usually get somewhere a little over 10 and under 14.”

The Panthers won a share of the 7A/6A-Central Conference championship and beat Rogers Heritage in the first round before falling in the quarterfinals at Fort Smith Southside.

After replacing 14 starters from the previous year’s state semifinal team, Cabot was picked to finish close to the middle of the pack in the conference this season. But the Panthers (9-3) overcame an early, two-game losing streak and steadily improved on their way to the postseason.

“Nine wins, you’d almost take nine wins any year,” Malham said.

Malham said the Panthers’ team smarts might have had something to do with that.

“That may account for the reason we had a better year than we thought we were going to have,” Malham said. “It doesn’t hurt to be smart out there.”

Defensive back/quarterback Bryson Morris, with grade-point average of 3.92, and kicker Will Hidalgo (3.90) head the list of players who finished with a grade point of 3.0 or better.

The all-state list featured the offensive/defensive lineman Cash, Brown at defensive back, Hawkins at linebacker and James at running back/defensive back.

Cash led the way up front for a run-oriented offense that averaged 27.5 points a game and helped out on a defense that allowed an average 20.3. Brown had 78 tackles and three interceptions, Hawkins led the defense with 110 tackles with two interceptions and James averaged 5.2 yards on just 39 carries.

The four were named first-team all conference and are joined by defensive lineman Jared Dumais (50 tackles, seven sacks) and tight end Rod Quinn, who averaged 15.4 yards a reception and scored two touchdowns.

“A lot of these kids that played are kids that have been seniors and been in the program and just paid their dues and finally got their chance to play as seniors, and did a good job,” Malham said. “That kind of speaks well for our program.”

Second-team all-conference choices were running back Jeremy Berry, who missed time late in the season with an injury; center/defensive end David Young; running back/linebacker Chase Boyles; defensive back Ethan Covington; tight end Jesse Roberts, who was also injured late in the season, and guard/defensive tackle Tyler Tarrant.

“We tied for the conference, 6-1 in our conference,” Malham said. “Usually when we win the conference we get around six or seven on the first team and then, of course, we do a second team so you get more kids represented.”

Running back/defensive back Antonio Davis, who moved in from out of state, won Cabot’s Lewis Smith award, a long-standing honor given to the player who Malham said represents the “heart and soul,” of the team.

Looking at the list of award winners dating to 1978, Malham said the Lewis Smith honor sometimes goes to a starter but is more often awarded to the reserve who does invaluable work in the unheralded role of scout team player.