By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
Heber Springs coach Todd Wood and his staff hopes to learn answers after the Panthers tangle in a benefit football scrimmage at Beebe on Tuesday.
Action will start at 6 p.m. with the teams participating in sets of plays on offense and defense. The scrimmage will conclude with the two teams playing for two quarters.
Wood, who was 2-9 in his first year as head coach, and the staff is optimistic that the team will enjoy success during the 2021 season.
“One of the big changes has been a spring camp and summer workouts going into fall practice,” Wood said when asked about the team’s progress. “We are more advanced at this point than last year. .”
Wood said the addition of one coach to the staff helps to spread teaching responsibility among coaches with players at all positions. Ryan Bridges, who previously coached at White Hall, is working primarily with the defensive line. He also is the school’s new baseball coach.
One of the big questions on offense going into the season is determining a starting quarterback. Wood said senior John McBroome, who started two games last season, and sophomore Xander Lindley have emerged as the top two candidates. Wood hopes for a starter to emerge from the scrimmage.
“John has a little more experience with the offense,” Wood said. “Xander was a receiver on last year’s successful junior high team, but he has prior quarterbacking experience. Xander has a good arm and a lot of speed. We plan to give them equal reps at Tuesday’s scrimmage. We also will take at look at Wyatt Winchester.”
Jackson West and sophomore Parker Brown are battling for the starting role at running back. West and Brown also are in the plans at receiver.
“Jackson is slightly ahead at running back,” Wood said. “We also plan to look at Gideon Tate at running back.”
The receiving corps may be the most experience group of players. With a year in the system, Wood believes they will have a bigger impact this season
“Gus Hannah is one of our fastest players on the team and runs excellent routes,” Wood said. “Easton Cusick gained speed and size during the offseason. Dalton Yancey played well for the junior high team last year. Austin Winchester can play a role and will get playing time. Chris Edwards may play at receiver and also start at cornerback. We need to figure out how to use all of the players.”
Three starters return on the offensive line — center Zach Thomas, left guard Peyton Owens and left tackle Thad Bray. Tristan Thissen is the leading candidate at right guard and Corbin Jones at right tackle.
Wood said Lucas Langster, who will start at defensive end, is the backup behind Owens. Blaze Emerson is the likely backup at right guard.
“Thad is our anchor on the line,” Wood said. “Zach can make the calls for the line. We are thin in numbers on the line, but we have players to fill all positions.”
Wood expects the defense will be improved and trying to limit the number of players playing both ways.
“We are looking for effort from the defense,” said Wood when asked about objectives of Tuesday’s scrimmage. “We want to play more physical than last year and tackle well.”
Langster and Jones will play the ends on defense with Emerson at nose guard. Owens and Joenah Cordell will provide depth.
Kenan Sneed, the leading tackler for the Panthers last season, leads the linebacking corps. Thissen is the likely starter at the other inside linebacker with Thomas also expected to play. Chris Roberts, Hayden Johnson, Hayden Davis and Tate rotating at the outside linebackers.
Except for Edwards, the secondary lacks varsity experience, but Wood is confident of the players to play well.
Zane Lozeau, a transfer from Dover, and Zack Parker are battling for the starting job at the cornerback opposite Edwards. Chandler Webber will also play at cornerback. Gage Buford and Colton Turley are the likely starters at the safeties.
“Edwards is one of the strongest players on the team,” Wood said. “We have the players and just need to put them in the right spots.”
After Tuesday’s scrimmage, the Panthers will have a three-week wait until the season opener at Newport on Sept. 3.
“The best thing about the time from the scrimmage to the season opener is the team can make the necessary adjustments,” Wood said. “We will not show everything against Beebe during the scrimmage.”