Expectations are at an all-time high for Lakeside High School's football squad after last season, when its defense produced seven shutouts in 12 games and the team advanced to the second round of the state playoffs.
The Panthers lost seven defensive starters from that team. They also lost head coach Jody Grooms, who took the job as head coach and athletic director at Wayne County High School in Jesup, Ga.
Despite the team's new look, the tone during recent spring practice remained a hopeful one for the Panthers (10-2 last season) and new head coach Jarrett Troxler.
"Expectations are up there, but I expect these kids to accept that challenge," said Troxler, who served as offensive coordinator last season. "We wanted to see how these kids have meshed. We lost seven on defense, and that's where we needed to improve this spring.
"But we have kids over there that can play. They'll be ready for Friday nights."
Ben Wilson and Mark Weidenaar will compete for the starting quarterback role. Troxler said both will be on the field regardless of which one starts at quarterback.
"Both had a great spring, and both of them are great athletes," Troxler said. "This is the first school I've been at where we've had a quarterback issue. But it's a good issue to have, because the competition will be good for both of them."
Meanwhile, rising senior Kendal Parker, the brother of Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker, will lead the defense from the linebacker position.
Wolfpack back in region
After two seasons competing in Class AAAAA, Greenbrier will drop down in classification to AAAA after losing nearly 400 students when Grovetown High School opened this school year.
The change will present the Wolfpack (3-7 last season) with fewer miles on the road next season, but do not mistake this season's schedule for a cupcake one compared to 2009.
"We'll be in with Lakeside and Evans (and) Statesboro. The parity's a lot better (in this classification). But Statesboro's still Statesboro," head coach Brian Smith said. "We're excited. It should be a real competitive region."
One of the story lines out of the Wolfpack's recent spring practice was the leadership of quarterback Scott Reeder, a rising senior touted by the coaching staff as a very accurate thrower, especially on deep balls. Part of the problem last season, Smith noted, was receivers dropping passes.
On defense, junior Thomas Brown had an all-region season last year as a sophomore at free safety. Smith said the coaching staff "is hoping for great things" from defensive end Daniel Horuzsko, one of the team's top playmakers and hardest hitters.
Warriors ready for season
Grovetown provided a surprise during its opening season last year, finishing 6-4 for a winning record right out of the gates.
Building on that early success, head coach Rodney Holder said he was thrilled to have nearly 90 students come out for the team's spring practice.
"We were thinking about the numbers. If half of our 1,200 students are boys, then one out of every six boys at the school came out for football," Holder said. "We're excited about that. Plus, we've got a bunch back from last year."
Because the Warriors had only six seniors on the team last season, they'll have the bulk of their players back. Holder said all but two starters are returning on offense. That includes a quartet of sophomores competing for time at running back.
"We feel like, right now, our running back job is still open coming out of spring practice," Holder said. "With all four being sophomores, they will have to earn it. Even though they're young, all four can play."
Whoever earns the starting gig will line up alongside quarterback Xavier Crain, the returning starter, as the Warriors move into Class AAA after starting out in Class AAAA last season.
Grovetown returns "just about everybody" on defense, according to Holder. However, the Warriors will miss the services of star running back Seth Hill, who has signed with The Citadel, and stalwart defensive tackle Marvon Danzie, who Holder said will try to walk-on at The Citadel.
Winter practice for Evans
Evans head coach Marty Jackson believes January to be the Knights' ideal time for "spring" practice.
He has many reasons, most notably the fact that many of his football players would be absent from practice in May because of their commitment to playing other sports.
"I like for our kids to play different sports," Jackson said. "We don't have many one-sport ponies. When I first got into coaching, I couldn't stand soccer players. But I thought about it, and I've never had a soccer player not be in shape."
Jackson believes his team's practice was a success, despite the loss of "a great senior class." The Knights (8-3 last season) have a big crop of 31 seniors for the upcoming season.
Evans' offense will be led by a new starter at quarterback after Troy Griffith graduated. Competing for the spot will be Michael Gaines and Glenn Cassedy, both of whom Jackson said had a solid spring.
"Glenn might be out front right now, but both are interchangeable in our system," Jackson said. "They just have different strengths."
At running back, Jamerson Turner leads the way after contributing last season behind starter Jonathan Finch.
Defensively, Jackson identified the front four as a potential strength, led by 370-pound nose guard Devante England. At linebacker, Thad Greenaway was one of the defensive players who stood out most to the coaching staff during spring practice.
Jackson said he's also excited about kicker Jamie Galvin, who booted a 52-yard field goal last season and made 11 of 14.
No Harlem spring practice
Four of Harlem's football coaches pull double duty as baseball coaches. One of them, Jimmie Lewis, leads both squads.
Many of the players play both sports, as well, making it tough for Harlem to find time to hold spring practice while trying to avoid missing both players and coaches.
"Just no good time to have it, really and truly," Lewis said. "If we had it before baseball, you risk getting someone hurt. If you have it afterwards, in the baseball playoffs, key people and four coaches are not there."
Lewis does work on the team's triple-option running attack with the quarterbacks and running backs on the side. This provides those players with work on the timing needed to perfect the system.
The longtime coach admitted that he has no problem with the team not being able to hold spring practice.
"Ten days, in my opinion, isn't enough to do anything no how, except get someone hurt," he said. "I think 95 percent of coaches would agree with me. It's just one of those unnecessary evils."
Like Greenbrier, Harlem also drops down in classification from AAAA to AAA. The Bulldogs, who were 4-6 last season, will compete in the same region as Grovetown.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.