Friday, May 30, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers starting to rebuild

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Panthers had their final spring football practice Friday at Panther Stadium, and even though coach Mike Malham said his team has a long way to go to get to where he wants it to be, he added that they’re better than they were at the start of the spring football period.

Cabot is coming off a season that saw great success, as the Panthers won their first 12 games of 2013 and finished the season as the class 7A state runner-up.

Even though some key returning starters are back from last year’s 12-1 team, the Panthers lost 16 starters from a year ago, and Malham and his staff are in the process of finding players to fill the open spots on both sides of the ball.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” said Malham. “When you lose 16 starters, you know, you’re rebuilding with a lot of inexperience. We’re better than we were, or I hope we are, but we’ve got a long way to go. But we’ve got some potential.”

Some of the potential Malham spoke of is at quarterback. Sophomore Jarrod Barnes took the majority of the snaps at quarterback this spring, and is expected to be the starter this fall. Barnes brings a level of athleticism to the position that Malham looks forward to seeing the next three years.

“We’re working a sophomore at quarterback that I think’s going to be pretty special,” Malham said of Barnes. “He’s got a lot to learn, but he’s got some natural talent that you can’t coach.

“Sometimes he wants to try to do too much, but I’m looking forward to working with him for the next three years. I think he’s going to be pretty darn good.”

Cabot lost eight starters on offense, and has been working a lot of kids at various positions, according to the head Panther. Left guard Wyatt Talik and left tackle Curtis Crowder return up front for the Panthers, but those are the only returning starters on the offensive line.

Senior Jake Ferguson returns at split end, where he led the Panthers with 354 receiving yards and six touchdown catches last fall. Cabot will have to replace graduated fullback Zach Launius, who led the team with 2,009 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns last season.

Jack Whisker and Colton Eads took the majority of the reps at fullback in the spring, but both are expected to have defensive duties as well. Sophomore Easton Seidl also got some reps at fullback, but like Whisker and Eads, he could be seeing a lot of time on the defensive side of the ball as well.

Jess Reed, Jason Shrunk and Jalen Hemphill took reps at halfback this spring in Malham’s Dead-T offense.

Defensively, the Panthers return six starters, including Ferguson, a two-time All-State safety who was named Arkansas High School Defensive Player of the Year last season, and fellow senior Tristan Bulice, who Malham said might be the best nose guard he’s ever had in his 33 years at Cabot.

“Defensively, we’ve got a very good nucleus back there,” Malham said. “We’ve got three d-backs back, including Jake Ferguson, who of course was Defensive Player of the Year last year in the state of Arkansas and was the Sophomore Defensive Player of the Year.”

Holdyn Barnes and Logan Melder return at corner, and Dylan Smith is expected to see some time at the position as well. Brian Marshall returns at defensive end, and Whisker returns at strong-side linebacker in Malham’s 5-2 formation.

“We’ve got Whisker back at linebacker and three d-backs back, including Jarrod’s brother Holdyn, who played last year as a sophomore, and Logan Melder. Bulice is as good a nose guard as there is in the state. He can play.

“With six back on defense, if we can fill a couple of holes there, I think we’re going to be pretty strong. But we’re not there yet.”