Deep and talented
August 24, 2008
Transfers shouldn't hurt Panthers' title hopes
In the offseason, two key players for the Cabot Panthers transferred to other schools, but the talent left behind could be enough to compete for a state championship.
Halfback Vince Aguilar moved back to Sheridan, where he will be the feature back, and tackle Jordan Gunn moved to North Little Rock, where he will compete against his former teammates for a conference championship.
The moves, while devastating to any other team, should not hurt Cabot this season with the wealth of talent they have returning. The Panthers had problems late last season when they were hit by the injury bug, but everyone is healthy and ready to start the 2008 season.
Quarterback Seth Bloomberg is fully healed and ready for his junior season after breaking his collarbone last year. His backup this year, Nathan Byrd, gives the Panthers quality depth at the position and could lead to a few more passing plays this season.
The move by Aguilar "hurt us a bit," head coach Mike Malham said. "He would have given us depth there."
As it stands now, the stable of capable runners is down to four guys that could start at any time. Chris Bayles and his 4.4 speed returns from injury at halfback, with Matt Bayless backing him up.
It is the fullback position that most people are looking at Cabot for this season. Junior Michael James returns after an ultra-successful sophomore campaign where he rushed for more than 1,700 yards and 20 touchdowns. Spencer Neumann will also play fullback this season if he doesn't play linebacker.
Senior tight ends Les McGregor and Blake Carter return this season and will be joined by senior Ben Wainwright.
When it comes to throwing the ball, something that Cabot usually does very little of, it will go to the running backs and tight ends.
"We don't really line anyone up out there [at receiver]," Malham said. "They all have good hands."
Aside from Gunn's departure to North Little Rock, the offensive line only lost one player from last year's team, but it was a key loss - all-state lineman L.J. Tarrant. With so few lost from last year's team, that means a lot of experience for an already tough line.
Zach McNeil will be looked upon to take over Gunn's tackle position, and the rest of the line includes Nick Pledger, Matt Jackson, Ben Ford and Walt James. James went down with a strained knee in fall practice, but Malham expects to have him back before the season starts.
On the defensive line, five of the top six players are back, including both nose guards - T.J. Bertrand and Kyle DeBlock. Cody Myers will begin his third year at defensive tackle and although Ford has moved to offense, Jay Turpin saw some time last year.
The defensive end position is the only place where Cabot lost everyone, Malham said. With four players competing for the two spots, Malham expects big things out of the position.
Brock Bunting played two games there a season ago, while Jared Maxwell played linebacker last year. Nick Tate, a transfer from Texas, will also be in the mix as will sophomore Rod Quinn, who holds the best power clean of all the varsity players.
"We've got four kids we think can handle it," Malham said.
Neumann, last year's leading tackler, returns to his linebacking position along with Ethan Coffee, who was injured last year, and Joey Bray, who saw a lot of playing time a season ago.
All of the starting secondary will return for the 2008 season including three-year starter Hunter Hess, who has led the secondary in tackles for the last two years. Junior Joe Bryant started as a sophomore last season until he was sidelined with an injury and his twin brother, Powell, took over at safety. Zach Coy was moved to cornerback last year and did well.
Justin Workman, a transfer from Little Rock Catholic will work at cornerback this year along with Nathan Burns.
"We have good depth and quality," Malham said.
Cabot is picked by many to finish at the top of the 7A-Central Conference this year, but Malham sees a lot of dangerous teams in the conference.
"The conference is pretty tough top to bottom," Malham said. "Look at the last place team and the first place team last year [North Little Rock defeated Bryant toward the end of the season]. Anybody can beat anybody. You've got to come ready to play every night. There are no off nights."