The Heber Springs players erupted with excitement while sprinting towards the south end zone of Panther Stadium when Coach David Farr called for the Oklahoma Drill on Tuesday – the first day in full pads for the Panthers.

The Heber Springs players erupted with excitement while sprinting towards the south end zone of Panther Stadium when Coach David Farr called for the Oklahoma Drill on Tuesday – the first day in full pads for the Panthers.

After spending nearly an hour practicing “thud” drills, it was time to tackle to the ground for the remainder of practice.

“There were a lot of big collisions and some good hits but we have got to do a better job of being focused and executing,” said Farr. “The effort is there, that is not the issue. We are just still learning in a lot of different places.”

Although not completely satisfied, Farr said the team is farther ahead at this stage than in the past. “We are farther ahead than we have been in years past as far as our kids understanding what we are doing offensively and defensively. We are getting into more advanced things with them right now that we don’t usually get into until two or three weeks into the season.

“We are getting down some blocking concepts and defensive assignments right now during fall camp because our kids have so much retention through spring, summer … They’ve been attentive, they know what they are doing. Our kids know what to do we just have failed to execute at all points in time and that causes frustration as a coach because we know they can do it. That will come with more reps,” added Farr.

With senior three-year starter Zach McCormick shifting to tackle, center is one of the issues the coaching staff is assessing with a close eye. A battle for that position is underway between junior Dylan Platt, who started on the offensive line last season, and senior Alex Diaz.

“They are both working at center. Honestly I think they are pretty close and it could go either way. It’s a good competition between those two guys,” said Farr. “We’ve got to get a snap and that is a big issue for us right now. We are having them high, low … We have to be consistent with the snap. But again that is a rep thing. In the past couple of weeks I have answered more questions about our centers and our snaps than ever before.

“I am not saying we will have a bad snap, it will happen. But it is not something you can get overly stressed out about. You’ve got to get reps, get time doing it and the more they do it the better they get. If you spend too much time adjusting them this way or that way and get them thinking too much it’s going to cause a slump.”

Several Panthers are battling for a starting spot, including inside linebackers Harley Johnston (junior), James Ketchum (junior) and William Brown (senior), who was in the mix on several tackles throughout the past two practices. “There were some big collisions between those two guys (Ketchum and Brown),” said Farr.

Farr said sophomore safeties Justin Feemster, who had the biggest hit on Tuesday, and Nate Dew possess the toughness and awareness to play valuable minutes.

“A play that sticks out in my mind just because it happened out in space and right next me was Justin Feemster. He just came up, ran the alley and really stuck his face in there and made a big-time hit in the Oklahoma Drill. I was really impressed with that.”

The emergence of Feemster and Dew could help spell workhorse tailback Chandler Marquardt, who ran with a vengeance in Tuesday’s practice ¬ causing big collisions between the tackles.

“Q (Marquardt) is a physical presence. When someone comes in and tackles him there is going to be some contact. He is breaking a lot of tackles right now and  he is doing a good job of lowering his pads, getting in there and protecting the football. He is going to be tough to bring down.”

At outside linebacker, Farr says sophomore Steele Spicer “Can put pressure on some guys at those positions. He is young but he has a good nose for the football.”

Senior utility back Chandler Jones shined in the Oklahoma Drill, using his elusiveness and incredible field vision to turn three consecutive quick screens into touchdowns.
When healthy, Jones has been a consistent contributor on both sides of the ball the past two seasons.

“I was kinda concerned about him at the beginning of this week. We had a sit down and talked about maybe having to hold him back in some drills. We used yesterday (Monday) as a time to evaluate him and he didn’t report any pain and then today I thought he moved around really well. So it seems that he is moving around a lot better and in the Oklahoma Drill he did some really good things so I am excited about that.”

Tuesday’s practice concluded with the offense using its passing game to march down the field. Senior receivers Conner Lindsey and Dillion Moore showed their ability to get open and make big plays as quarterback Hunter Chandler delivered precise passes, including many on the move.

Speedy sophomore Pierce Mitchum, senior Austin McVay and junior slot back Eddie Torres have good hands and quick feet after making the catch, while senior Austin Espinosa has some speed to go with a large frame enabling him to shield defenders and rumble up field. Lindsey and Espinosa both have the size to play tight end depending on the offensive set.

“Honestly at receiver right now I feel like there is a lot of competition all the way across the board,” said Farr. “There are a lot of guys fighting for reps so that is a good problem to have.”

The Panthers host a benefit scrimmage with Quitman and Rose Bud on Monday, Aug. 25 as the junior high teams start at 5 p.m with the senior high to follow at 7 p.m.
Heber hosts fierce rival Clinton in its season-opener on Sept. 5.