Pelham Panthers 2018 football prediction

Published 10:44 am Wednesday, August 15, 2018

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

I’m going to preface this article by saying there may not be another team I’m higher on heading into the 2018 football season than the Pelham Panthers, but those words mean nothing without the players backing them up on the field.

The Panthers move from Region 3 in the 6A classification to Region 5, meaning they drop Benjamin Russell, Opelika and Wetumpka from their schedule this season and instantly become a strong contender to win a region championship.

With Carver, Chelsea, Helena, Homewood, Minor and Jackson-Olin being the six teams Pelham will compete with for a region title, the Panthers seem to be a favorite, along with Homewood, to take home the crown in 2018.

The confidence in Pelham isn’t based just on its schedule this season, which is actually pretty difficult, but the talent returning as well as one of the best coaches in the state in Tom Causey.

While Causey hasn’t yet carried his successful days at Demopolis to Pelham, going 8-23 in four years, the progress has been there.

His tenure started out with a 1-9 season, which was followed by a 2-8 record in year two. But in year three, Causey led this team to a 5-6 record and a playoff berth in that difficult region with a deep junior class.

Now, in 2018, the Panthers return its best cast of players under Causey, including a load of talented seniors that seem ready to make Pelham football relevant again.

The only real positions in question heading into the season for the Panthers are the first two offensive positions, quarterback and running back.

At quarterback, the Panthers are trying to decide between two players that got time last year in senior Matthew Rye and junior Xavier Lankford. Both players are leaders, but both also want to win the job extremely bad.

Rye started the majority of games last year, but got injured, which allowed Lankford to make a name for himself as a sophomore. At the time, Rye was a much better runner, while Lankford was the better passer.

Now, Causey says neither guy really brings anything better to the table than the other. That’s because the head coach has said that Rye has improved his passing ability tremendously.

If you would’ve asked me before talking to Causey who the quarterback would be in the first game against Calera, I would have said Lankford, but now I wouldn’t be surprised if we see both get some action.

Either way, somebody has to take control if this team wants to be successful and you can’t feel bad for playing the one that gives the team the best chance to win.

At running back, there isn’t so much a concern of who will play, but there is some unknown with the loss of All-County back Nic Blackburn who ran for close to 2,000 combined yards over the last two years.

Jalen Cook and Dylan Peterson will be two feature athletes looking to replace Blackburn’s production. Both are powerful, physical runners that are set up for good seasons in the backfield.

We go from those two positions with a slight bit of uncertainty to one of the most trustworthy positions on the team—the receivers.

Edward Gipson, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound freak athlete, is back and caught 35 balls for 564 yards and six touchdowns last year. He’ll be joined by another extremely talented athlete in Brandon Sledge who had 23 receptions for 297 yards and two touchdowns, while also adding 371 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.

Edward Gipson

One of the team’s biggest leaders, Kasey Clark, will also help out at the position as a four-year starter. Behind those three stars, six others are looking to step up and make a name for themselves.

Blocking for the offense will be Gino Ramos, Nate Barron, Dakota McLaren, Logan Atkins and Jody Morton. Those guys all have some experience and should be a solid group with several others adding good depth at the position.

The defensive front will be led by Brock Higdon, who is a tall athlete at 6-foot-7, 230 pounds. This will be the Western Kentucky commits third year on the line. He’ll be joined by Donnie Ball, Braden Lee and Sina Vatony. The two deep rotation at this position is also extremely good.

Like receiver, the linebacking unit will be the anchor of the defense with the return of Navy commit Ryan Jewell. This will be his third year playing at linebacker as a starter and has gotten bigger and stronger than ever in the offseason.

Fellow senior Dorian Tolbert, a second-year starter, will also be a key player at the position. Matthew Plummer was a slot receiver last year, but has gained 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason and will be a key linebacker now with Zach Rushton and Brayden Marlowe as backups.

Patrick Durr will be back in the secondary for his third year of starting and brings to the table as much talent as anybody on the team. He’ll be joined by Camerin Carr at cornerback, while Phillip Duke and Jackson Weaver will be returnees at safety.

Prediction: The talent is there for Pelham this season, but if the Panthers are going to get where they want to be, the defense has to improve on the 36.1 points per game it gave up a year ago, and a quarterback has to be able to spread the ball to incredible playmakers out wide. I have confidence in both happening, and think the Panthers will finish 8-2 and win Class 6A, Region 5 this year. The key game this year will be a road contest against Homewood on Friday, Sept. 7. It’s the first region game of the season for both, but I think the winner of that game will win the region title.