MALVERN LEOPARDS: Leopards may depend on offense early
August 26, 2012
Last year, the Malvern Leopards were Class 4A state championship contenders, reaching the state title game only to run into perhaps the best team in the state — Pulaski Academy, which finished the season as undefeated state champions.
Malvern had only two regular-season losses — a nonconference loss to Hot Springs Lakeside and a conference loss to Pulaski Academy. This year, the team is expected to make just as good a showing, and preseason predictions are putting them finishing No. 1. Another bit of good news is that Pulaski Academy has moved on to Class 5A.
“We need to remember that expectations are high, and hard work is what got us here,” Leopards head coach John Fogleman said. “We don’t need to back off.”
Fogleman said he lost key players on both sides of the ball after last season, and it is important to fill those empty slots.
“We have a ways to go,” Fogleman said. “Right now we are focusing on filling those positions.”
Losing those key players, especially defensively, and finding the right players for those roles might actually give the Leopards a different game plan for the upcoming season.
“The last couple of years, we have depended on the defense while the offense comes around,” he said. “This year we might have to rely on the offense more than we have before.”
Fogleman is aware that inexperienced linebackers are his team’s weakness this season, but he said he isn’t worried because he is seeing a lot of positive things from his offense.
Senior Austin Warford will be the offensive leader of the team, returning for his third season as quarterback. Last season, he completed 133 of his 216 passes for more than 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also added more than 800 yards on the ground with another 15 scores. Seniors Tim Hardimon and Jahkery Dupree will be his go-to receivers again this year.
Junior Kaylen Burks, who spent most of his time on the defensive side of the ball last year, is also looking at playing time as a receiver this season.
“Burks looks good at receiver,” Fogleman said.
Even though the Leopards’ linebackers are still developing, Fogleman has still seen some positive things from his team.
Dupree, who has spent his entire career at running back, will more than likely be seeing some time at linebacker, and Fogleman said he has seen good things from junior Corey Smith as a linebacker.
“It is different day to day,” Fogleman said.
Fogleman is also happy to see junior Jesus Torres return as the team’s place-kicker. He connected on 8 of 10 field-goal attempts last season.
Fogleman said the Nashville Scrappers stand out as the “team to beat” in the 7-4A Conference and have been considered that way for as long as he can remember. The Leopards had the upper hand on the Scrappers last season, however, defeating them 20-7 in conference play and again 28-16 in the third round of the playoffs .
Malvern will open the season against Glen Rose, which Fogleman said will be a challenge for his team. The Beavers, who are just a few miles up the road on U.S. 67 from Malvern, are members of the 5-3A Conference.
“They are picked by quite a few to finish high in their conference,” he said.