Wicksburg was one of the hottest teams in the Wiregrass at the end of the regular season. The Panthers regrouped from a 1-3 start and won their last six games to make the playoffs, where they fell at Gordo in the first round.
The Panthers are hoping a return of six starters on offense and six on defense – led by seniors Dustin Woodham and Reece Martin – can lead the team to another playoff run this season.
Woodham is a 6-4, 265-pound tackle on offense and nose guard on defense.
“Dustin works hard,” Panther head coach Josh Cox said at the start of his sixth season. “He’s gotten really strong. He benches 365, has been timed at 4.8 in the 40. Just a great kid. He’s got several colleges looking at him.”
Martin is 6-foot, 195 and plays outside linebacker/defensive end and fullback.
“Reece also has several schools looking at him,” Cox said. “He was our leading tackler last year. We’re excited to have those two guys back.”
Wicksburg likely will move from its base 40 defense to a three-man front because of how disruptive Woodham could be at the nose.
“All these colleges want to see Woodham with his hand in the dirt,” Cox said. “We’re going to put him at nose guard and that’ll solidify the middle a little bit. It could be pretty effective.”
A big change to the offense brings in sophomore Jackson Glover (6-0, 160) at quarterback. Walt Sinclair moves from quarterback to running back. Sinclair ran for lot of yards for the Panthers last season. Cox said the balance an improved passing attack will bring should open things up for the running game, too.
“Glover’s not very big, but he sees everything well,” Cox said. “He throws the ball well over the middle, throws it well on the edge. He’s got a good arm. He’s still learning, obviously, but he’s a very smart kid who understands what we’re trying to do.”
Glover didn’t play last season, but he raised eyebrows when he had more passing yards just in the spring game than the Panthers had total passing yards last season, Cox said. He’s got a pair of dangerous 6-5 targets to throw to – LaPatrick Murry, a junior who is a returning starter, and sophomore Clay Morrison.
“It’s pick your poison with those two,” Cox said. “We’ll put them on each side of the ball. Most teams are not going to have two guys that can guard guys like that. We’ll take our chances there. We’re teaching Jackson a lot of different reads on outside linebackers to take advantage of mismatches.”
Sinclair’s move to running back will help the ground game. Artavious Shipmon will also carry the football. The Panthers will find running back depth with Alex Garzarek, an outside linebacker who will rotate in, and with senior Devon Campilango.
Whoever gets the ball will likely have a stellar lead blocker in Martin, a bruising fullback who plays H-back in Wicksburg’s shotgun double-wing offense.
Up front, in addition to the return of Woodham, Gavin Medlen returns as a starting guard and Tyler Walker, who played more defense than offense last year, will likely start in both places this season.
Cox likes his offensive linemen, but wishes there were more of them.
“That’s been our backbone the last several years,” the coach said. “I think we’ll be pretty good again this year. We just don’t have as many guys to rotate in there.
“ Two years ago when we went 10-2 I think we had about 13 guys and we’d rotate series, then put the first group in for the fourth quarter and just wear people down. Now we’ve got about eight guys we can rotate.”
Cox is confident the Wicksburg defense will be very strong.
“We’ve got a couple guys that are coaches on the field who will get guys in the right position and are very vocal on the field,” he said. “We haven’t had that in the past. I think that’ll make us better.”
That starts with Woodham up front. Tyler Walker will play next to him at a defensive tackle spot.
The Panthers have four experienced outside linebackers who can move around and play on the edge – Sinclair, Martin, Garzarek and Sawyer Rivenbark.
“Sawyer didn’t play last year but he’s back this year,” Cox said. “He’s a very competitive kid, loves the game, gets us lined up.”
Murry returns as a starting safety and Campilango should win a cornerback spot.
A key newcomer will be 6-3, 200-pound sophomore inside linebacker Michael Albertson.
Murry will handle kickoffs and the Panthers’ placekicker again will be sophomore Ashton White, who has handled the job the past since three seasons, since she was a seventh grader.
“She’s a great softball player, that’s really her passion,” Cox said. “I told her she can kick as long as she wants to kick. She said she’s doing it again.”
The Panthers are hoping for big production from the sophomores Albertson at middle linebacker and Glover at quarterback. But there is experience around those players.
“We’ve got to stay healthy,” Cox said. “We’re thin in some places – the O-line, at running back. We’ve got good guys there, we just don’t know about the depth. But I think our balance will make us a ton better.”
PANTHERS AT A GLANCE
>> Head coach: Josh Cox (6th year at Wicksburg and as a head coach, 36-20)
>> 2018 record: 7-4 overall, 4-3 in Class 3A, Region 2, first round of Class 3A state playoffs
>> 2018 results: Daleville (W, 49-20); at Slocomb # (L, 13-14); Providence Christian # (L, 12-35); at Pike County # (L, 29-33); Rehobeth (W, 27-14); Opp # (W, 47-0); at Straughn # (W, 27-14); Houston Academy # (W, 39-3); at Geneva # (W, 42-21); Ashford (W, 50-38). STATE PLAYOFFS: at Gordo (L, 0-21)
>> Points scored/per game: 335/30.5
>> Points allowed/per game: 213/19.4
>> Returning offensive starters (6): RB/QB Walt Sinclair (Sr., 6-0, 180); RB Reece Martin (Sr., 6-0, 195); RB Alex Garzarek (Sr., 5-9, 185); WR LaPatrick Murry (Jr., 6-5, 190); OT Dustin Woodham (Sr., 6-4, 265); OG Gavin Medlen (Sr., 6-1, 210)
>> Returning defensive starters (6): DT Dustin Woodham (Sr., 6-4, 265); DT Tyler Walker (Sr., 5-10, 250); OLB Reece Martin (Sr., 6-0, 195); OLB Alex Garzarek (Sr., 5-9, 185); OLB Walt Sinclair (Sr., 6-0, 180); S LaPatrick Murry (Jr., 6-5, 190)
Aug. 30 at Daleville
Sept. 6 Slocomb #
Sept. 13 at Providence Christian #
Sept. 20 Pike County #
Sept. 27 at Rehobeth
Oct. 4 at Opp #
Oct. 11 Straughn #
Oct. 18 at Houston Academy #
Oct. 25 Geneva #
Oct. 31 (Thu) at Ashford
# Denotes region games