Spring ends on high note

BENTON – After a 6-6 record last year, it’s best since the 2005 season, the Benton Panther football team closes its spring portion of its schedule, six practices including Friday night’s spring scrimmage at Panthers Stadium, featuring its hurry-up offense.

“That’s how we practice,” Benton Coach Scott Neathery said. “Everything we do is quick. I feel real good right now coming out of spring. I liked our enthusiasm. I liked the way we competed. We competed all two weeks, every practice. We had some great competition. It was never just going out to get practice over with. I really think the kids had a good time. They had fun. As a coach, you really like to see that.

“You’re always looking for execution and making sure you’re doing your schemes right and everything, but at the end of the day, if your kids are having fun with what they’re doing, then usually good things are going to happen.

“Offensively, pretty much as expected. Basically a review of what we’ve been doing the past few years. We’re looking to maybe fill some holes and I think we’ve done that.”

The Panthers will have to do without 6A South Offensive Player of the Year Tarek Beaguard’s 3,003 passing yards, including a school-record 30 touchdown passes (breaking Nubbin Wray’s 61-year-old record) and team-leading 723 rushing yards and 12 TDs. But, Benton will have junior Cason Maertens back as the starting QB. Maertens passed for 344 yards and three TDs last year in a back-up role.

“At quarterback we have Cason Maertens,” Neathery said. “He competed for the starting job last year. He’s a dandy quarterback, a good quarterback. Really the best thing about Cason is his demeanor. He knows the offense up and down, front and back, all the way around. He has a good command of the offense and knows what we’re trying to do, what we’re trying to attack. His delivery has gotten better this year as far as a quicker release. His velocity has gotten a little better over the year. He’s not floating as many passes as he did last year. He also has great leadership ability.”

The Panthers will also have to do without Shaun Carey’s 709 yards on the ground, but leading returning rusher, junior bruising back Drew Dyer (365 yards and four TDs; team-leading 69 receptions).

“We have Drew Dyer coming back,” Neathery said. “Drew, he does a good job. He’s a great receiver and a good smash-mouth runner. He proved that last year. We lost Shaun Carey and we were wanting to see who was going to fit in that running back position. It looks like Drew Harris will fit into that running back position. He’s new to us. He’s coach Brad Harris’ (new defensive coordinator) son. Drew is going to be a senior and he played quarterback at Lincoln. He’s a good quarterback. For right now, he’s going to be a running back. He adds some athleticism to our offense.”

After losing leading yardage receiver J.V. Davis (62 rec., 1264 yards, 14 TDs), the Panthers will also be without would-be returning receiver Colten Nix (43 rec., 664 yards, 11 TDs) because he suffered too many concussions last year. But, Sam Baker (20, 191, 2 TDs), Casey Green (9, 138, 1 TD) and Grayson Morrow (1 catch for 3 yards) will man the receiving corps, with Hakeem Noble looking to be in the mix.
The Panthers also return an offensive line with some experience.

“Our line did well,” Neathery said. “They may not be returning starters, but just about everybody up there got significant playing time last year. That’s always a plus. We have some veteran guys. Jacob Cooper is going to be a sophomore and he got some considerable time during the spring with our first team. I really feel good about where our line is. I really feel good about our offense.”

New defensive coordinator Brad Harris, the former head coach at Lincoln, brings a new wrinkle to the other side of the ball.

“Defense, we’ve been based out of an even front,” Neathery began. “We’re going to be based out of an odd front (this season). We had a couple breakdowns (Friday), but that’s going to happen whenever you learn new terminology, new lingo and you only had six practices to learn it. We basically put it in right now and I know Coach Harris is still trying to learn personnel and that type stuff. He’s watched a lot of film of our ball games. He’s learning who can do what to put them in the right position, plus our kids still have a new learning curve.

“I do like the aggressiveness and I do like the way they were attacking in practice. I think our kids feel good about what we’re doing. They’ve really taking to it.

“(Ben) Brasuell has had a good spring at linebacker, and Tim Dezort has had a good spring. I know our defensive ends John Penn and Garrett Taylor, offseason was great for them. They’re really doing a good job. They can control the edge really good, they have all spring. I’m really pleased with those two guys.
“In the secondary, Stone Paul at safety has had a really good spring. He should because he’s a three-year starter. At corners, we’re still trying the right personnel. We still have a few question marks on defense because of the newness of what we’re doing.”

The Panthers will begin the football season on Friday, Sept. 5, in the Salt Bowl at War Memorial Stadium against rival Bryant Hornets.