MILLPORT, Ala. — Each week, National Football League head coaches have to file an injury report that lists their players” injuries for that week”s game.
Fortunately, South Lamar High School football coach Josh Harper doesn”t have that job.
Heck, he wouldn”t have the time.
While some coaches are busy breaking down video tapes of upcoming opponents, Harper and his staff have been busy reshuffling the depth chart after a number of players have suffered injuries in the preseason. One quarterback has a broken thumb, as does a receiver. There is also a strained medial collateral ligament (knee), a stretched anterior cruciate ligament, and a pair of high ankle sprains.
“If we can stay healthy, we can be a good team,” Harper said. “But, I have to bold, capitalize and double underline, IF we stay healthy. We have gone through a lot already this season. The good news is we have several young players who will have lots of reps before we get into region play.”
Those repetitions will begin Friday night when South Lamar plays host to Pickens County in a preseason scrimmage. South Lamar will kick off the regular season Aug. 26 when it travels across the county to take on arch-rival Lamar County.
“The attitude has been very good at practice,” said Harper, who is beginning his third season. “We were 1-9 and then 3-7, so we are hoping now is the time to start paying back some people. We have been down at the bottom. However, we have grown together as a team. We have been through a lot of bumps and bruises. Now it is time to be rewarded for the hard work.
“If we can stay healthy, this should be the year we finally turn the corner.”
Helping the Stallions turn that corner will be a pair of talented understudies at quarterback. With senior Jordan Smith (5-foot-9, 180 pounds) sidelined by a broken thumb, senior Trent Wilson (6-2, 163) and sophomore Canaan Fleming (5-11, 170) will step in at the position. The backfield includes senior Hank Parker (6-0, 190) at fullback and senior Greg Posley (5-10, 200). The tailback is junior Blake Mitchell (5-8, 155). Receivers include senior Kyle Robertson (5-8, 130), senior Jacob Beeksma (5-10, 160), and sophomore Dalton Pollard (5-10, 145).
“We really won”t be changing anything we like to do on offense,” Harper said. “Hopefully, we will be in a position to open it up more by the time we get into region play. We have confidence in Trent and Canaan. We know they can be leaders. Blake (Mitchell) got some carries last year as a sophomore and scored two or three touchdowns.”
The offensive line includes sophomore Davey Long (6-2, 295) at left tackle, senior Tremaine Willingham (6-2, 282) at left guard, sophomore Jason Lawson (5-8, 236) at center, freshman Holden Fields (5-10, 200) at right guard, and freshman Tucker Holliman (6-0, 253) at right tackle. Senior Shane Wright (6-2, 216) is the tight end.
“We have several talented returnees,” Harper said. “The key is more consistency. Last year, we had games where we would have several series in a row where nobody could stop us. In other games, we would finish strong. Now, it is all about consistency.
“We have to find a way to have more good drives consistently throughout a game. The talent is there. It is just a matter of the players being in the right position to make plays and being able to find a way to stay healthy.”
Defensively, the ends are Fields and Wright, while the tackles are senior Chris Knight (6-1, 238) and senior Tremaine Willingham (6-2, 238). The linebacking quartet includes Parker, Posley, sophomore Zach Foster (5-11, 160), and Fleming. Beeksma is at safety, while Mitchell and senior Avery Ward (5-9, 145) are the cornerbacks.
“This may be where the injuries have affected us the most,” Harper said. “We had a plan to play fewer players both ways this season. If you can build depth at the 1A level you have an advantage. However, the injuries have affected things quite a bit and we have to scratch those plans. We will start the season with several players playing both ways.
“Hopefully, as we get ready to move into region play, the depth will be back. If we can get away with it, we would like to have fewer two-way players this season. That would help us down the stretch for sure.”
Defense has been at the forefront of some serious August practice sessions.
“For the last four years, we have given up right at 34 points per game,” Harper said. “That dates back to a team that made the third round of the playoffs. Defense has not been our forte, and we have to change our mind-set. I like how we have picked up the intensity. However, we have to be more physical and more aggressive on defense. We have to carry our practice mind-set over to the games.”
Senior Tyler Riley (5-8, 145) will be the kicker, while senior Trent Wilson (6-2, 163) will be the holder. Parker returns as punter after earning several postseason accolades in that department a year ago. Mitchell and Beeksma will be the top return men.
“We have 10 seniors, and it is a whole lot better attitude,” Harper said. “The team has grown up a lot since the end of last season. I think there is a belief and a trust factor in place. The players have been working hard in hopes that this is the season the program turns the corner.”
Harper also expects his squad to make significant strides in the Class 1A, Region 5 race. Parrish and defending regional champion Marion County are projected to be the front-runners.
“This is the first year I have been coaching where we have experience returning on both sides of the ball,” Harper said. “However, everybody in our region has lots of returning experience. Parrish and Marion County will be the teams to beat. This will be an extremely competitive region this season.”
Bubba Davis (running backs), Justin Hayes (junior high), Johnny House (linemen), Morris Moore (line), Kenny Pollard (wide receivers), Greg Weathers (junior high), Hunter Williams (defense), and Lane Wright (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks) will assist Harper.
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