Staying optimistic is the name of the game for all area coaches.
After Gov. John Bel Edwards announced his intention to keep the state in Phase II through most of the month of July, coaches are attempting to prepare for the season amid the restrictions placed upon them. But still that hasn’t shaken the optimism of having kids working out on Sterlington’s campus.
“I feel like I have to be optimistic,” Sterlington head coach Lee Doty said. “I’m asking about 80 to 90 kids to come out here four days a week, I’m as optimistic as I can be that we’re going to have a season. I don’t want to think I’m doing this for nothing, and I surely don’t want them to think we’re doing this for nothing.”
If there was a reason to be less optimistic than others, Doty certainly has a few at his disposal. For starters, just look at the returning starters made available to him. On offense, Doty has to replace an entire backfield and has just three players returning to the entire offense that started for the Panthers last season.
“It hurts not being able to throw the ball and do drills right now,” Doty said. “Not being able to do those drills is what concerns me. With us, it’s about timing and meshing. It’s a lot of those type things that we’re not able to do. It takes reps with a totally new backfield to be able to get good at that. We’re going to be fine if everybody else is in the same boat as us.”
The Panthers don’t have the luxury of returning a starting quarterback or a multitude of starting offensive linemen like other schools in the area. That would be a huge concern for Doty if it weren’t for an extremely talented quarterback like senior Grant Mangrum stepping in.
“He’s very cerebral and very coachable,” Doty said. “We also have a guy behind him right now in Mason Lawhon that’s going to be a sophomore. He’s going to really push him. That’s a great competition there, and Grant is such a team leader.”
Sterlington also returns just four starters on defense after going 11-1 in 2019.
But if there’s anything Sterlington can rely on, it’s the standard that’s been built the last two decades. Under Jason Thompson, the team broke through with a state championship in 2016, and since Doty took over in 2017, the Panthers have gone 35-5.
Those wins were built from the month of January, though.
“We have a philosophy of winning a ball game every month from January to June,” Doty said. “We feel like our conditioning and strength and conditioning program are very good. So we’re having to spend a lot of time getting our kids in physical condition. Hardest thing has been coming in when we’re two months behind. We’re finding the right balance because it’s hot out there and kids aren’t used to it.”
Doty praised his players for the way they’ve adapted to the unique situation as the 2020 high school football season draws near.