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Panthers wrap up spring, ready for summer

by Graham Thomas | May 31, 2023 at 12:30 p.m.
Graham Thomas/Herald-Leader Siloam Springs football coach Brandon Craig (right) works with offensive backs during spring practice earlier this month. The Panthers wrapped up spring practice last week and will start their summer program Monday.

The Siloam Springs football team wrapped up spring football practice last week and now braces for what should be a busy summer.

The Panthers were able to get in eight of their allotted 10 padded practices in this month and several non-padded days as well. Spring ball wrapped up with a 60-play scrimmage on Wednesday, May 24.

"I think it's been one of our most productive springs," said head coach Brandon Craig. "We've been able to get a lot of good reps with our kids, both padded and non-padded. We've done a lot of teaching, a lot of install. I feel like we have 80 to 85 percent of our offense in.

"Defensively we've been able to evaluate kids from the standpoint of their effort and energy, tackling ability, covering ability -- all things we need to be able to do to be successful on defense. So we have a good idea of what we have coming out of the spring. Obviously, we're looking forward to going to camps and competing against other people this summer. But it's been a really productive spring."

Craig said the Panthers started spring practice in May, a little bit later than usual, so it wouldn't interfere with spring sports. Also, the team a couple of days where practice was affected by weather.

The Panthers went 0-10 in 2022 but started 12 sophomores on Friday nights and played 19 10th graders on varsity throughout the year.

"A lot of those kids got game time last year as a young kid," Craig said. "They really understand what it takes on Friday nights to be successful. When you're going into it blind as a sophomore you really don't have a clue what it takes on Friday nights. These guys have been there."

Craig said he's seen a commitment from players showing up at 6:30 in the morning on their own during offseason to throw and workout and do extra stuff.

"Which is the first time we've had kids do that since covid," he said. "It's nice to see that commitment coming back. So I'm excited about that. There's such a fine line between winning and losing on Friday nights. For us we want to go out and be competitive and have that chance every Friday night, so we've got a group of kids that I feel like are doing that."

Offense coming along

Offensively, the Panthers got to look at both of their quarterbacks -- junior Dane Marlatt (5-7, 170) and sophomore Jonathan Hyde (6-1, 160) -- when both returned from baseball earlier in the month. Both got lot of reps in the spring and the battle is expected to continue throughout the summer.

"Yeah we're still evaluating quarterbacks," Craig said. "They both do some things well. They both have things they need to work on. That's probably going to come right down to the start of the season because we're just trying to see if either one of them can separate themselves."

On the offensive line, Craig highlighted the play of senior Noah Beyers (5-10, 240) and senior Jordan McCoy (5-11, 223).

"As far as offensive line, we have some kids that have really stepped up," Craig said. "Looking at Noah Beyers, he's had a good spring for us. Jordan McCoy, a kid that we didn't know would be an offensive lineman. We think he's going to be a starter-type kid for us. He's doing a real good job at left guard. So we've had some surprises there, some kids that have done some really good things."

Craig said senior Noah Race (5-11, 257) has been "a rock for us on the offensive line," while senior Brock Gold (5-10, 260) anchors the unit.

Sophomore Fransisco Suarez also has stepped up on the O-line, Craig said.

"Fransisco Suarez is a kid that's going to be a sophomore has been playing right tackle for us all spring," Craig said. "He's done a tremendous job. He's getting so much better. He's a kid I think is going to be a big-time player for us."

The Panthers return senior Jed Derwin (5-8, 210) at running back, and Craig highlighted sophomore Mason Short (5-7, 151) for doing some good things in the backfield.

At wide receiver, Craig said senior Quinten Motsinger (5-6, 148) has stepped up and made a lot of plays, as has senior Cameron Stafford (6-1, 183).

Sophomores Jack O'Brien (6-2, 168) and Mason Edwards (6-1, 181) are in the mix along with junior Chase Tighlman (5-6, 150).

"Tighlman had a great spring at receiver," Craig said. "We moved him around and he was able to make some plays at inside and outside wide receiver."

Junior H-Back Rustan Pickup (5-10, 205) and sophomore Stewart Schwaninger (6-1, 220) have also played well.

"Some young guys have really shown that they want to get on the field and have done a good job competing," Craig said. "So I feel solid about what we're doing. I feel like our kids understand the system and are really making some strides offensively."

Veterans returning on defense

The Panthers have plenty of experience coming back on defense, and those guys got plenty of reps int he spring as well.

"We've got some staples over there," Craig said.

On the defensive line, the Panthers have had some surprises.

Junior Guadalupe Rodriguez (5-6, 191) "has shown he can get off the football," Craig said, as has junior Braxton Majors (5-7, 179).

Junior defensive end Christian Mendez (6-2, 232) is back for his second year.

"He's made some big strides as well," Craig said of Mendez.

Senior defensive tackle Justin Burton (5-7, 268) anchors the group inside.

At linebacker, senior George Leroy (5-10, 196) is a returning starter. He's joined by junior Josiah Thompson (6-0, 185), who didn't play last year but has returned to the team and did well.

"He has a chance to be a player for us," Craig said of Thompson.

Junior Victor Toledo (5-8, 182) has been a surprise at linebacker.

"You've got a kid that probably nobody knows in Victor Toledo, who has just really worked his tail off this spring," Craig said. "He's stepped up for us and made a lot of plays in practice."

Other notables at linebacker include Kayden Davidson (5-10, 193) at Leo, along with Nohe Hernandez (5-11, 183), who played in the secondary last year and has been moved to an outside linebacker, walk-up defensive end role.

"He's handled it really well, so we're excited about that," Craig said.

Senior Jason Courtney (5-7, 198) had a good spring at linebacker.

Junior Gage Jones (5-11, 161) also stood out.

"He's been tremendous as far as his attitude and effort," Craig said.

In the secondary, juniors Mikey McKinley (5-7, 157) and Gio Flores (6-0, 200) return, while juniors Brock Nall (5-7, 151) and Eli Hargett (5-8, 145) have had good springs, Craig said.

Junior Caden Linn (5-10, 151) had a good spring.

Senior Anthony Sandoval (5-10, 187) also is the secondary after returning from soccer season.

"He's back in the flow, so we're excited about him," Craig said.

"We've got a really good culture going," Craig said. "I feel like our kids are all in. The biggest test will be June 5 when we start back up when they come in and start working out. It takes a lot of dedication and commitment on their part."

Summer camp begins

Summer camp begins Monday with morning workouts Monday through Thursday at 7 a.m. at Panther Fieldhouse, followed by ninth-grade from 8-9:30 a.m. The Panthers will jump right in to a team camp (varsity, junior varsity) at 9 a.m. Thursday, June 8, at Springdale High.

"It's important that everyone's here and we get off to a good start this summer," Craig said. "We'll be at Springdale. Elkins and Shiloh (Christian) will all be there. It'll be a good competitive camp and give us a chance to go measure the strides we've made."

Once again, Craig has stressed the importance of attendance in the summer.

"Our biggest things, we had a parent meeting and I talked to the parents about attendance," Craig said. "It's important that (the players are) here so we can coach them. We follow the 90 percent rule. We expect you to be here 90 percent of the time. If there's some type of excused absence where you have to go family vacation or an emergency comes up, we understand that. It's just an accountability thing. Ever since covid, we've had a real lack of accountability, not only in school but in society, and we're trying to help improve that."

Following the Springdale team camp, the Panthers will participate in another team camp at Farmington at 9 a.m. June 14.

Siloam Springs also will host the third annual Stateline Shootout 7 on 7 Tournament on June 17.

"For us our focus is two team camps in June, Springdale and Farmington team camps, and then we host the 7 on 7 shootout on June 17," Craig said. "It's a big deal not only for us but for our community, because we bring in 15 teams from other cities, from both Oklahoma and Arkansas. It's exciting to have that many people in our community."

Craig said the Panthers are still looking for sponsors for the Stateline Shootout.

"Any business in town that would like to get involved, they can reach out to me and we can make that happen," Craig said. "It's a big deal. I'm glad that we do it. It's our third year to do it. It takes a lot of time and energy, but it's good for our kids."

Interested sponsors can email [email protected] for more information.

The Panthers also will host 7-on-7 play dates for varsity and junior varsity at Panther Stadium on June 12, June 19, July 17 and July 24.

The Arkansas Activities Association dead period is June 25-July 9.

The team will resume activities July 10 and attend a team camp at Bentonville West at 9 a.m. July 12.

Summer pride will continue through July 27. Fall camp begins July 31.

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