Spring practice is always important for the development of a football team.
With Heber Springs replacing 11 starters on defense alone, this year's spring practice is critical for the Panthers, who have appeared in the 4A state playoffs seven consecutive seasons under Coach Steve Janski.
Heber opened spring practice on Monday afternoon at Panther Stadium with several players learning multiple positions.
“Spring gives you the opportunity to move a lot of guys around to different positions but it also creates a big learning curve for those guys,” said Janski. “They are in one position and all of a sudden they've got to move to another. But, that is what we are going to have to do, especially on defense.”
Heber's offense returns five starters and several more contributors from last season.
Senior Michael Kramer returns at quarterback and will be protected by three experienced offensive linemen, including seniors Nate Hills and Jason Hammons, plus junior center Zach McCormick. Junior tailback Chandler Marquardt, who started in the backfield as a sophomore, gives Heber a powerful, reliable ball carrier.
“You feel real good about those three offensive lineman and then it's going to be a tryout for the other two positions,” said Janski. “We feel good at quarterback and running back. Kramer and Hunter Chandler will be competing with each other and then you have Chandler Marquardt, who is a returning starter from last year. We are trying to find some guys to push him as well.”
Chandler, a sophomore, will likely see time at receiver or defensive back when Kramer is behind center. “We are training him up at corner on defense and wide receiver on offense. He is one of those guys kinda like Michael Ludwig that can play a lot of different positions and we are already training him up that way,” said Janski.
The Panthers had 49 players out for the first day of spring practice, including 12 seniors.
Hills, Hammons and Kramer are taking leadership roles. “As an overall person it doesn't get much better than Nate Hills. He is an Eagle Scout and that tells you the type heart that he has. He is into serving people, has a great attitude when it comes to practice and he has a great work ethic. Without a doubt, Nate Hills is the rock of leadership,” added Janski.
“Jason has done a great job leading,” stressed Janski. “He has really stepped out of the shadows from last year and is doing a great job in a leadership role. And of course Michael Kramer is just like Nate Hills to me. He is as solid as they come. Kramer is a multi-sport athlete and that benefits him so much. I really love when our kids play multiple sports. It makes them an overall better competitor than when they just specialize in one sport.”
Page 2 of 2 - In order to extend their playoff streak, Janski said the Panthers must learn on the fly. “When you think about the state championship caliber teams we are going to play … We've got to learn from our mistakes early because we have a tough schedule opening with Pottsville. Then you host 3A state champion Harding Academy and then you go down to 4A state champion Stuttgart. We've got to grind through the middle part of the season and get better.
“A lot of that comes down to spring practice, finding out the pieces to the puzzle right now and seeing where these new faces can go and where they can help us. It's already been a great off-season as far as our winter conditioning program is concerned. This group has great work ethic. They flip the switch and go to work and that is what gives you a lot of promise,” added Janski.