Fresh off of a state runner-up finish, Sterlington goes into the summer with vacancies up front as graduation claimed three starters on both the offensive and defensive lines.
Center Braden Bruscato and quick guard Brock Risinger are the only incumbents from a unit faced with the task of replacing All-State strong tackle Trey Rugg, the District 2-3A MVP.
“We have to find three of them,” coach Lee Doty said of the Panthers’ O-line. “We feel like we have one or two kids in the program who can step in. We’re really, really looking hard to find two more. One of them may have to come off the defensive side of the ball or we may have to play somebody before we would like to.”
Skill-wise, the offense should be in good shape.
An explosive backfield, featuring quarterback Hayes Crockett, fullback Jordan Townsend and tailback Dallas Reagor, returns intact. Reagor was an All-State selection last season while Crockett and Townsend collected first-team All-District honors.
With a year in the system, Crockett has earned Doty’s trust.
“Having the starting quarterback already in place is a huge deal for us,” Doty said. “He’s ready to lead, I believe.”
Townsend and Reagor form a dynamic 1-2 punch in the running game with Zach Crain backing up both positions. Townsend also saw action at linebacker last fall. While the top three are proven, depth is a concern.
“We’re looking for more depth at running back,” Doty said. “I feel good about the three we have, but outside of those three, we go from being really good to really young.”
Layton Rainbolt is back at wide receiver, along with tight end Hixson Street. Ram Foster and Luke Handy will also figure into the receiver equation.
Doty plans on Crockett playing a more prominent role this season.
“With Crockett, Rainbolt and Street, and backs who can catch the football, I feel good about our ability to throw,” Doty said. “We have to involve Hayes in our offense more, either running or throwing. He’s too good of a player for us not to.”
Six starters are missing from the defense, including a trio of linemen and both cornerbacks.
Despite the loss of All-State cornerback Trey Eddins, Doty expects the secondary to be the backbone of the defense.
“Defensively, we took some serious losses, but we feel good about our secondary,” Doty said. “Even though we lost some guys, we feel like we have a chance to be pretty decent defensively if we can stay healthy.”
First-team All-District performer Reece Brooks and Dorian Eddins are back at the safeties, with Rainbolt and Thompson projected as the starting corners.
Cole Jones, the team’s leading tackler in 2018, is the ring leader at linebacker. Seth Temple, a part-time starter last season, Brody Green and Handy are vying for the remaining two spots. Dylan Owens, who moved to Texas last year prior to transferring back to Sterlington, is another possibility.
“Dylan will factor in somewhere on defense, possibly at Mike linebacker,” Doty said.
Dylan Barber, Devin Hinton and Michael Patton are among the candidates in the fray to join tackle Luke Carmichael on the starting front four.
Parker Coley will see action at defensive end or outside linebacker, if not both. Coley was named MVP of the state championship game after helping the Panthers to their second state baseball title in three years.
“Parker is too good of an athlete not to be on the field somewhere,” Doty said.
Jacob Green, who joined the team at midseason as an emergency fill-in for the injured Landon Green, is firmly established as the kicker.
“Jacob is a weapon we can use on kickoffs, extra points and field goals,” Doty said. “He is working on his punting as well. With Reece, Parker and Jacob, we feel like the kicking game will be pretty good.”
2019 STERLINGTON SCHEDULE
Sept. 6 at Logansport
Sept. 13 Ouachita Christian
Sept. 20 Oak Grove
Sept. 27 at North Webster
Oct. 11 at Union Parish*
Oct. 18 Wossman*
Oct. 25 Richwood*
Nov. 1 at Franklin Parish
Nov. 7 Carroll* (Thursday)