Bigelow Panthers: Panthers focusing on offensive lines

Tammy Keith Published August 25, 2013 at 5:00 a.m.
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Finishing second in the 5-2A Conference last year only fueled the fire for the Bigelow Panthers.

“Our expectation is again to compete for a conference championship,” said coach Jeff Starks.

The team was 9-2 overall and 6-1 in the conference, losing to Magnet Cove.

He sees a triple threat between the Bigelow team and the trophy.

“Our conference is pretty tough, with Magnet Cove, Conway Christian and Mount Ida,” Starks said.

Thirteen seniors on the team graduated last year, too.

Still, he has faith.

Bigelow has 35 players on its roster. “This is the most we’ve ever had,” Starks said. The team includes about a dozen seniors, and he’s counting on them to bring it every game.

“We’ve got some athletic kids who have been sitting in the back. That class we graduated last year is the best football class we’ve had. They had the best three-year record of any who came through,” Starks said.

That meant some players, even if they had potential or downright talent, warmed the bench.

“Some sophomores last year didn’t get a chance to get in there. Now they’re juniors — it’s time for them to step up. A lot of seniors this year didn’t play a whole lot [last year].”

Turning his attention to other aspects of the team, the coach addressed strengths and weaknesses.

“Our defensive backs right now are a big strength. Our wide receivers — a big strength,” Starks said.

On the other hand, “we’re not real big,” he said. “We’ve got to improve on the offensive and defensive lines.”

Starks is supported by coaches Matt Chandler and Jim Brown.

This season’s quarterback is Nate Turner and if the name sounds familiar, it’s because last year’s quarterback was his brother, Austin Turner.

“He’s got some shoes to fill,” Starks said of the younger sibling.

Starks said “our two best players” are seniors Javier Granillo and Bret Kagebein.

He has high praise for both young men.

Granillo, a free safety and wide receiver, is “very athletic,” Starks said.

“He won the triple jump at the state meet last year,” he said.

Not only that, but Starks said the student-athlete’s grade-point average was a 3.8 or 3.9 last year.

Kagebein is a nose guard and fullback and “he’s like a 4.0 student,” Starks said.

Both young men received all-district honors last year.

“I expect both of them to get at least that and hopefully exceed that and be team leaders for us,” he said.

“Then I’ve got two returning linemen and we’re really expecting leadership out of those guys — Austin Morgan, a senior offensive lineman/defensive lineman; and Blake Byrd, senior defensive lineman/offensive lineman.

“I really need them to be good leaders for us,” he said. “I need their leadership and just their tenacity in the trenches and to be rocks for us.

“Mainly those four seniors are the ones who have got to lead. These juniors and sophomores have got to grow up in a hurry to give us a chance to be successful,” Starks said.

Bigelow has become accustomed to success on the field, and Starks isn’t ready for that to end.

“We’d like to do more — like to go further and win a conference championship,” he said.

“It could happen,” he said, adding that common mantra among coaches: “We’ve got to stay healthy.”

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