Quick take on prep football: Wellborn Panthers

·3 min read

Aug. 28—2021 SCHEDULE

Aug. 20, at Anniston

Sept. 3, vs. Ohatchee*

Sept. 10, at Saks*

Sept. 17, vs. Pleasant Valley*

Sept. 24, vs. Hamilton

Oct. 1, at Glencoe*

Oct. 8, vs. Hokes Bluff*

Oct. 15, at Weaver*

Oct. 22, at Piedmont*

*Class 3A, Region 5 game

2020 RESULTS

Aug. 21, Anniston (H), W 12-7

Sept. 4, Ohatchee (A), W 20-14 (OT)

Sept. 11, Saks (H), W 20-0

Sept. 18, Pleasant Valley (A), W 49-14

Sept. 25, Hamilton (A), W 55-7

Oct. 2, Glencoe (H), W 49-0

Oct. 8, Hokes Bluff (A), W 33-9

Oct. 16, Weaver (H), W 69-0

Oct. 23, Piedmont (H), L 27-21

CLASS 3A PLAYOFFS

Nov. 6, Phil Campbell (H), W 63-20

Nov. 13, Fyffe (A), L 42-13

HEAD COACH

Jeff Smith is entering his 13th year as the head coach at Wellborn. He's compiled an 83-51 record during his tenure on The Hill. Before returning to his alma mater, Smith spent six seasons at both Ohatchee and Hueytown. His career coaching record sits at 159-106.

CLASS, REGION

Class 3A, Region 5

LAST YEAR

9-2 overall, 6-1 region. Wellborn finished in a three-way tie with Piedmont and Ohatchee for the Class 3A, Region 5 championship. The Panthers entered the playoffs as the No. 2 seed, based on tiebreakers, and advanced to the second round before falling to eventual state champion Fyffe.

HOW IT WENT IN 2020

After making it to the state semifinals in 2019, expectations were once again high entering the 2020 season. Led by standout quarterback and middle linebacker Jett Smith, Wellborn got off to a great start. After a season-opening win over Anniston, the Panthers opened region play with a crucial overtime victory over Ohatchee. They went on to win their next six games in convincing fashion before dropping their regular-season finale against Piedmont. Wellborn cruised past Phil Campbell in the first round, but ran into powerhouse Fyffe in the second. The Red Devils eliminated the top three teams in Class 3A, Region 5 on their way to a state championship. With a more favorable postseason draw, the Panthers would have most certainly advanced further than the second round.

KEY RETURNEES

TB/S Jesse Lewis, OG/MLB Brayden Dempsey, OG Imariyn Jenkins, C Austin Smith, QB Grayson Johnson, ATH Beau Neely, WB/CB Xavier Parker, FB/OLB Omarion Curry, FB/OLB Kevin Clark, S Brady Johnson

OUR TAKE

Wellborn has lost 30 seniors — 24 of whom were starters — to graduation the past two years, so this year's team is going to look a lot different. The Panthers return only four starters from last season: Brayden Dempsey, Jesse Lewis, Austin Smith and Imariyn Jenkins. Dempsey — the only starter left from Wellborn's 2019 semifinal team — will be tasked with taking over for Jett Smith — the 2020 Class 3A lineman of the year — at middle linebacker, while Grayson Johnson steps in at quarterback. The Panthers open the season with a brutal three-game stretch against Anniston, Ohatchee and Saks. It will be important for them to get through those games healthy while younger players gain valuable experience. If that happens, Wellborn could make some noise in the season's second half when the schedule softens. The Panthers should be in the mix for the final playoff spot in Class 3A, Region 5, along with Pleasant Valley, Weaver, Glencoe and Hokes Bluff.

WORD FROM COACH SMITH

"I think the more game experience that they get, the better they're going to get. I think if we can go out there and stay healthy, and stay injury-free, and keep improving like I've watched them improve since spring training through the summer to now, I think we'll be there competing for a playoff spot. I can see that happening."

Assistant Sports Editor Jared Gravette: 256-235-3572. On Twitter: @Jared_Gravette.

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