August 15, 2014 1:54:44 PM
There is a different kind of energy at West Lowndes High School.
Maybe it has something to do with all of the hills that the Panthers have been running to get them in shape for the start of the 2014 football season.
The optimism and enthusiasm in Columbus also could be attributed to the fact that coach Anthony King has added former Oak Hill Academy head coach Daniel Merchant (defensive coordinator), Ernest Rogers (defensive line), and Major Woodson (offensive line) to his coaching staff.
Whatever the reason, King and West Lowndes will be eager to hit the field at approximately 7 tonight when they play host to Lowndes County rival Caledonia in a jamboree in west Columbus. Bessemer Academy (Ala.) will take on Houston in the first part of the jamboree at 6 p.m.
"I think there is a different type of energy," King said, agreeing with the assessment of his program. "Coach Merchant has had a lot of success as a head coach. He is bringing a different energy, and he is young. We also have Ernest Rogers. He coached with me at East (Oktibbeha County High), and I know he is a good guy and he knows that line. We finally have an offensive line coach, too. All three of them are working well together. They are taking the talent we have got and working them real hard."
West Lowndes hopes to improve on a 4-6 season in which it failed to advance to the postseason. The Panthers lost three of their final four games (Nanih Waiya, Sebastopol, Noxapater) in a tough closing stretch of the Class 1A, District 3 schedule. This season, King hopes a decision to focus on discipline will help the Panthers get over the hump. He said the move has left the team without as many players (26-27 on the roster), but King feels the players who have stayed are dedicated and committed to the program.
"The biggest thing we have been working on is discipline," King said. "Win or lose, we're going to have a disciplined team. That has been kind of lacking."
King said the decision was made after last season to hold players accountable and to make them participate in conditioning and training in the weight room. He said he opted not to allow players who didn't commit to the work to join the team a few weeks before the season, as had been done in past years. He feels the decision and the resulting hard work the players who remained put in has left the Panthers with a foundation for success, especially since the team has a young core on the offensive and defensive lines.
"I got tired of guys who don't put in the work are the first ones to quit on you when things start going wrong, or they give up in the second quarter, or won't go all out because they're not invested in it," King said. "These guys are invested. The ones who stayed loved it. The ones who tried to come out late, they didn't care for it. That's what we're going to have to do to take that step to get to the next level."
King hopes the remaining players take advantage of their opportunities and showcase the hard work they put in in the offseason. He said that work will have to pay off because the Panthers don't have the team size and will have to rely on their team speed, especially against stronger opponents in the district.
"We just made them run a whole lot of bleachers and laps and did a lot of bear crawls," King said. "The kids worked harder than they ever have. We're going to try to play a fast tempo because we have more athleticism than we do size. We're going to have to take advantage of our talent because we don't have the talent to play power ball with teams. We hope we're going to wear bigger teams down with our speed.
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.