Friday, August 22, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Reps for youthful Panthers

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Panthers completed their third week of fall practice sessions this week, and after going through the first couple of weeks of practice with question marks at certain positions, the Panthers are coming close to penciling in all of their starters and key role players for the upcoming season.

Cabot coach Mike Malham said he entered fall practice with 86 players on his roster, and that nothing has changed there, but the vast majority of those players lack varsity experience.

The offensive line is where the Panthers return the least experience. They have just two starters returning up front, and defensively, Malham is going to have to rely on a lot of sophomores this season.

“We’re working the same kids,” said Malham. “Hopefully with the reps they’re getting a little better. I hope we can come away from Monday thinking ‘hey, we got a chance.’ I hope we don’t come away saying ‘Oh gosh, we’re that bad?’ It’s hard to tell when you’ve been beating on yourself for three weeks.”

The Panthers travel to Lake Hamilton on Monday for a scrimmage against the class 6A Wolves. Lake Hamilton finished 8-4 last season and is usually right up there with the top teams in 6A.

Malham believes he’ll get a good idea of how competitive his team will be after Monday’s scrimmage that starts at approximately 6 p.m.

“They’re usually a pretty good 6A team,” Malham said of the Wolves. “If we play well and hold our own against them then I’ll feel pretty good with as many new kids as we’ve got in there. Hopefully we’ll get better as the weeks progress, because they’re going to get more experience.”

Malham said the players he knew were standouts before have been the ones that have impressed the most for his team on the practice field.

Standout seniors Jake Ferguson and Tristan Bulice were some of the first players Malham spoke of that have performed well throughout fall practice, but he said all of his returning starters have done good things as well.

“Ferguson and Bulice and those guys that are coming back from last year, they all know what they’re doing and they look pretty good,” Malham said. “You just get a lot of mistakes when you’ve got 15 new faces.”

The 15 new faces are the 15 new starters that are replacing those from last year’s 12-1 state runner-up team.

There are still some battles at certain positions because some of the back-ups are just as good as some of the starters, especially on defense, where four of the starters on that side of the ball are sophomores.

“Defensively, right now we’ve got a sophomore starting at one of the tackles, a sophomore starting at one of the linebackers, a sophomore starting in the secondary and a sophomore starting at D-end,” Malham said. “There’s four, and we’ve got three sophomores that are immediate back-ups.

“That’s not good, but we do have Ferguson and Bulice over there to build around. (Jack) Whisker is back at linebacker, and (Logan) Melder and (Holdyn) Barnes are back there in the secondary.

“We’ve got five that played last year, but those six other spots we’re looking at sophomores. They’ve got some potential, but it takes time. It’s a whole different ball game from playing ninth grade to stepping up and playing 7A with a bunch of seniors.

“When you play Conway, Catholic and North Little Rock in the first three games you better grow up quick.”

Malham did say he was pleased with the progress his offensive backfield has made since fall practice began three weeks ago.

“I’m real pleased with what I’ve seen from Jalen Hemphill, Kolton Eads, Jarrod Barnes and the other running back spot,” Malham said. “I’ve got two working there in Jess Reed and Jason Schrunk, and both of them are capable. So I’m pretty pleased with what we’ve got there.

“If the offensive line will get off the ball and give them a little protection then I believe we’ll be all right on offense. We’re further ahead on offense right now than we are on defense. I guess that’s because we’ve got more sophomores playing defense, and the only sophomore we’re really counting on on offense is, of course, the quarterback (Jarrod Barnes).

“That’s a pretty big spot, but he’s more than capable if he can handle the pressures.”