By Wil Crews
SMITHS STATION —
Smiths Station head football coach Mike Glisson enters his fifth year with the Panthers looking to return the program to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
“Another chance to compete, another opportunity, and that’s the way we look at each season,” Glisson said at Media Days last week.
Smiths Station whimpered to the finish line last season, finishing 2-8 with a 1-5 region record. However, the Panthers lost four of those games by one-score margins.
“We had a tough year as far as wins and loses go,” Glisson said. “But we lost four games by basically a score. We still got to find a way to make those plays. We have got to get over that hump. I think last year we weren’t enough a unity as a team.”
Playing in one of the toughest region classifications in the state, Smiths Station knows it has to improve to compete with the likes of Central Phenix City, Auburn, Opelika, Prattville and others.
“I hear people come up here and talk about the SEC in their region,” Glisson said. “You come on in this region and get you some. We have six playoff teams in our region. You can have a pretty good football team in this region and not win a game.”
One way the Panthers hope to bridge the gap is by deciding not to hold a traditional spring schedule. Instead, Glisson opted to have an extra week of practice for his team this month.
“We are one of the teams who decided not to do a traditional spring,” Glisson said. “A couple things that changed are, No. 1, you don’t know how they are going to react when they get hit in the mouth, and No. 2, we’ve weeded down some of those people we carried into the summer. I get to have a scrimmage before our week zero game, which makes it a little bit better.”
A new season presents a new opportunity for the Panthers. Returning their quarterback, two running backs, four offensive linemen with starting experience, both place kickers and four starters on defense, the Panthers hope to get off to a better start in 2022.
“Last year, COVID hit us pretty hard so we had some kids get some playing time that weren’t ready,” Glisson said. “That’s good for this year, they have been in those battles.”
Despite the difficult region and schedule, Glisson and company enter 2022 with motivation and excitement. In part, that’s due to the work the team has put in this offseason.
“[Last season] was motivation,” Glisson said. “The kids really responded. The weight room this offseason was pretty brutal. But, I think we needed that, and hopefully that will make us able to make those plays. Having that experience and being in those tight ball games hopefully will help us figure a way to win some of those.”
Smiths Station hopes to instill a renewed sense of competition between itself and its peers in 2022. And, ultimately, the Panthers are going to have fun doing it.
“I enjoy these kids,” Glisson said. “They work hard, they fight hard, they play hard and they are fun to be around. They compete and they do it to the best of their ability. We talk about that a lot, and having good character and doing things the right way. We are excited about the upcoming season.”
Smiths Station begins its season playing LaGrange High School from Georgia on Thursday, Aug. 18. It is the first meeting between the two schools.