By Morgan Bryce
Seeking to grow and improve daily is the goal of first-year Smiths Station High School Coach Mike Glisson and his Panther football team.
Hired Jan. 23, Glisson said and his mostly new-look staff are looking to revitalize a struggling program that finished 0-10 last season.
“A lot of times when you step into a situation like this, it’s two steps forward and one step back. There’s a lot of things I like: the kids are working hard and they’re hungry, plus they want to win,” Glisson said. “But you gotta teach them how to win. And in order to do that, you have to a lot of things right, which is our main focus right now.
Following is a unit-by-unit breakdown of the Panthers, with information on starts and potential newcomers to watch during the coming season.
Finding the endzone was a struggle for the Panthers last season, managing two offensive touchdowns all year and finishing with 3.7 points-per-game average.
Behind what Glisson calls an “overall good and talented offensive line,” the Panthers’ primary attack will be the run, but with well-timed passing plays to keep opposing secondaries wary.
“If you look at any level of football, all the teams that have success have the ability to run the football. You gotta throw it when you have to, but running the ball is key,” Glisson said.
Opelika High School transfer Jacob Blackmon and Corey Minton will compete for the starting quarterback role, which is currently an even battle, according to Glisson.
Cameron Jones and Chad Strickland, both senior offensive tackles, will be the heart and soul of the offensive line. Tony Bond and Tristin Goble are expected to play at guard, though Glisson said Bond may seem time at center throughout the season.
The Panthers have an embarrassment of riches at running back, with four solid options vying for carries: Kyran Hall, L.C. Harris, D.J. Moffett and T.J. Morgan.
Newcomers Dre Cooper and Dukes Sterling figure to receive immediate playing time at receiver, along with Sterling Evilsizer and Payton Wiggins.
Before coming to Smiths Station, Glisson served as the defensive coordinator for Beauregard High School for three seasons, building a defense with a reputation for playing aggressive, assignment-sound football aimed at stopping at the run.
“Football is a real simple game: run the ball and stop the run. If you do that, you’ll have a chance to win,” Glisson said. “I’m not a University of Alabama fan, but they’re going for their third (national) championship in four years, and that’s because they are going to run the football and they’re going to stop you from running it.”
Projected starters for the defensive line are Quintarious Broaders, Devyn Harris and Moffett, along with a consistent rotation of offensive linemen to provide depth and fresh legs.
Linebackers figure to be strength of this team, with Harris, Moffett and sophomore middle linebacker Jordan Jones, a player Glisson encourages fans to pay attention to this fall.
“Jordan started as a freshman last season, and he has a chance to be a really big-time player. He put on 31 pounds in the offseason, going from 159 (pounds) to 190 (pounds),” Glisson said. “He can run well and he is just an outstanding player.”
Quintin Ashford, Caleb Coleman, D.J. Miller and Manchez Roberson, all upperclassmen, figure to lead a dynamic and seasoned secondary.
Taylor Walker, who has a deep soccer background, is the solidified leader in the kicking department. Glisson said he will handle extra points, field goals and kickoffs.
Four players are currently battling for punter, though Jameson Douglas has a slight edge to this point in fall camp.
Both kickoff and punt return will be handled by committee this fall.
A member of the AHSAA’s 7A Region 2, the Panthers will face a tough draw from their region, which includes powerhouses like Auburn, Robert E. Lee, and archrival Central of Phenix City.
Despite what many would deem a challenging schedule, Glisson said he and his staff are focused on building a program with players who seek to grow daily and become better young men on and off the gridiron.
“I hear a lot of people talk about changing cultures, but as coaches, our job is to lead them and show them what they have to do to be successful. It’s not going to be easy and there will be some bumps in the road,” Glisson said. “I tell them to block out any negativity on the outside and worry about what’s being said and done right here, right now.”
Below is Smiths Station’s schedule, which is split evenly with five home and five road contests:
Aug. 24 – v. Russell County
Aug. 31 – @ Valley High School
Sept. 7 – v. Central High School (Phenix City)
Sept. 14 – @ Enterprise High School
Sept. 22 – @ Robert E. Lee High School
Sept. 28 – v. Stanhope Elmore
Oct. 5 – v. Jefferson Davis High School
Oct. 12 – @ Auburn High School
Oct. 26 v. Prattville High School
Nov. 2 – @ Eufaula High School.
For more information or updates, visit www.lee.k12.al.us/SSH. Panther Stadium is located behind the Smiths Station Government Center on Lee Road 298.