The few, the versatile…
JEMISON – For the five years of coach Brad Abbott’s tenure, Jemison’s varsity football team has been composed of about 65 players each year.
With only 40 Panthers this season, Abbott and his staff have had to reconsider how they approach their preparation for the season.
“Everything we’ve done has been different, from the practice schedule to conditioning to talking to other coaches about how they go about it,” Abbott said.
The roster shows two small classes are the cause of depth concerns: the football team has five seniors, 16 juniors, 14 sophomores and five freshmen.
The Jemison staff is being tested because, for the first time, a significant number of the players will have to play on both offense and defense.
Senior Jacob Chapman, juniors Isa Bentley and Jesse Taylor and sophomore Javae Swindle were the only Panthers to play both ways last year and will be counted on to do so again.
Chapman is a defensive back and a receiver, Bentley is a running back and linebacker, Taylor is a receiver and defensive back, and Swindle is a running back and defensive back—and the backup to first-year starting quarterback Scott Clements.
“He has some touch on the ball,” Abbott said about Swindle, a diminutive speedster. “He played quarterback in the seventh and the eighth grade He’s a very competent backup.”
While Jemison should be strong in the defensive backfield, the front seven is a concern because only one player, senior nose guard Darius Smith, returns from last year.
The same players that are inexperienced as a defensive front, though, should comprise a solid offensive line. Senior Justin Nemec and juniors Hunter Cowart and Matt Nolen are returning starters that will be joined by Smith, juniors Josh Moore and Makenan Sciandra and sophomore Jackson Mims, among others, to form a unit Abbott expects much from.
“It’s a credit to them; we hardly ever have any blown assignments out there,” Abbott said.
The offensive line is the exception, though, as depth has been a concern at other positions. That might make one might think Abbott would utilize less strenuous practices to avoid injuries, but that hasn’t been the case.
“We’ve probably been hitting more than the last couple of year,” Abbott said. “Sometimes, you just get a feeling that that’s what you need to do.”