Herald Leader / Eagle Observer Football Preview

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The Siloam Springs defense gave up an average of 420 yards per game in 2017, and the Panthers know they have to tighten up on that side of the ball if they want to be successful in 2018. The Panthers are switching to a new defensive formation — a 4-2-5 alignment — under first-year defensive coordinator Cole Harriman, the son of former SSHS head coach Ken Harriman. "(The 4-2-5) allows us to still be in a four-man front, but it gives us the ability to adjust to all different types of offenses we see," said head coach Brandon Craig. "It gives us a chance to be gap-oriented. We're not asking a kid to play a two-gap, which is very hard for a high school kid to do." Defensive line The Panthers' coaches are thrilled about the development of junior defen- sive end Colby Fesler (6-3, 232), who registered seven tackles last year but has had a strong offseason and summer. "We really like what he's done in the spring," Craig said. "He's gotten bigger and stronger. We feel like he could be a next level-type kid. I like his size and his athleticism. If he continues to develop his skills and works hard, he could be a kid that has an opportunity to play at the next level." Senior Fermin Velis (5-6, 218), who doubles as a starter on offense, is projected to line up at nose guard and is one of the strongest players on the team. " He j u s t s q u a t t e d 4 8 5 p o u n d s (recently)," Craig said. "He's got a great get-off burst. He's very physical. He's one of those kids we're going to have to manage well." Junior Mariano Dominguez (6-1, 261) came on strong as a sophomore on the defensive line and returns as one of the Panthers' top options at defensive tackle. Dominguez finished with 26 tackles last year. "He's a kid that we're in the process of developing his defensive line skills and technique," Craig said. "If he will keep coming along and make that commit- ment, he could be a really good defensive lineman inside." Senior Corbin Collins (6-3, 286) is a full-time starter on the offensive line but he'll also factor in on defense as well at a tackle position. "He moves well," Craig said. "He's got his weight down. He's done a really good job of committing in the summer. He could play nose guard and defensive end if we needed him to." Other defensive linemen include juniors Levi Masters (5-11, 183), Dustin Mitchell (5-10, 191), Damein Martin (5-9, 178), Harrison Mehlburger (5-6, 211), and sophomores Jonah Blossom (5-6, 180), Asa Mojica-Loftin (5-11, 213), Jordan Holloway (5-3, 156), Judd Kelly (5-10, 250), and Chris Svebek (5-9, 183). Junior Thad Wright (6-0, 213) gives the Panthers some versatility at the Leo spot, which is sort of a hybrid cross between defensive lineman and linebacker. "The reason (Wright's) there is he can put his hand on the ground or stand up and play linebacker when we go to a 30 front (three-man front)," Craig said. Sophomore Keondre Westbrook (5-10, 249) also can play in the Leo spot. "He has the background of playing linebacker," Craig said. He's gotten bigger and can play defensive line too." Sophomore Luis Soria (5-8, 175) could see time at Leo in JV games. Linebacker Senior Chase Chandler, who is the Panthers' leading returning tackler from 2017, has had a strong offseason at the Will linebacker spot. Chandler (5-10, 223 pounds) recently deadlifted 500 pounds in a summer workout session. "He's a very strong, well-put-together kid," Craig said of Chandler. "He defi- nitely makes an impact. He's real physi- cal. You like to have linebackers that are very physical. He fits the mold of a true linebacker." Craig said Chandler is getting into better stances and is better at getting aligned and reading keys. "He's checking off all the boxes for what we're trying to do defensively," Craig said. "He's a big leader for us. Chandler brings a lot of enthusiasm to the field. He gets excited and gets a lot of other kids excited around him." Sophomores Nick May (5-9, 200) and Colin Evers (5-11, 180) could see time at Will linebacker in junior varsity games. At the Mike linebacker, the Panthers are counting on senior Matt Avery (5-10, 229), who returned to the team after not playing his junior year. "He's stepped right back in and been a big surprise for us," Craig said. "We weren't sure what we were going to be able to do with him. It's worked out well for him. He's made some outstanding plays through camp and some really big hits." Sophomores Hunter Dorsey (5-10, 237) and Matt Reynolds (5-11, 188) will likely see a lot of time at Mike linebacker on junior varsity nights. The Sam linebacker is a versatile position on the field for Siloam Springs, because it's one that must play the run and pass. Coaches feel like senior Spenser Pippin (5-10, 206) is a good fit for that spot. "His versatility allows us to use him in a lot of different ways," Craig said of Pippin. "He can play the run and the pass and that's what we need out of our Sam linebacker." It also helps that Pippin is a son of a football coach, Craig said. "He's been around football his whole life," Craig said. "His family loves foot- ball. That gives him an edge right there." Senior Kaiden Thrailkill (5-9, 195) is getting reps at Sam, but the Panthers are hoping his time spent on defense will be small. "In high school football, you never know who's going to get injured," Craig said. "Spenser can move inside and we can pop Kaiden right there." Secondary The Panthers' secondary features some new terminology from recent years. The Panthers will show two high safe- ties, and one of those spots will be the Bandit position. Junior Jackson Norberg (6-0, 158) is the favorite to win the starting nod there. "He's long and has gotten stronger this summer," Craig said. "He's a physical kid that likes to go hit people. He's a lot like the Sam in some sense in that he's an outside linebacker/safety type. "He's one of the kids that showed up every day this summer and put his heart P.O. Box 100 1401 E. Main St., Siloam Springs (479) 524-3121 P.O. Box 6294 2230 N. ompson, Springdale 479-756-2010 backstrom-pyeatte.com Serving NWA For 100+ Years • Plan Ahead • Talk of a Lifetime • Support • Services Good Luck Teams! Don't let them bury you! 2018 Football Preview The Herald-Leader/Westside Eagle Observer Wednesday, August 22, 2018 n 7 SSHS working to bridge gap on defense By Graham Thomas Staff Writer n gthomas@nwadg.com See DEFENSE on Page 8

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