Collinsville senior quarterback Dalton Hughes knows he has some big shoes to fill. He’s replacing last year’s Class 2A Back of the Year finalist Kaleb Jones, who set numerous school passing records in leading the Panthers to just its fourth state semifinal appearance in school history.
“I’ve always looked up to him,” Hughes said. “He’s a great quarterback. Me and him are best friends, basically brothers. He’s always been the quarterback when I’ve been on this team. He was always for the team and that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to make us better.” Change is something that all of the Panthers will experience this season.
Not only has Hughes taken over at quarterback for Collinsville, but the Panthers have also moved up to Class 3A. They also have a new head coach in former Madison Academy defensive coordinator Daniel Garrett, who was hired March 30 to replace the retired Ernie Willingham. Collinsville is Garrett’s first head coaching job, and he likes what’s he seen so far.
“We’ve had a pretty good start I feel like,” Garrett said. “I think the kids are buying into the way we’re doing things now.”
Even though the Panthers lost 12 seniors from last season, they do return several key members from last year’s team, including Hughes and senior linebacker Blake Sparks.
“We’ve got about 10 returning players who know how to win,” Sparks said. “We’ve gone to the playoffs the past two years, but that doesn’t mean anything until we come out here and prove ourselves. We’re going to be pretty young this year, but pretty much everybody in the program has been around winning seasons. We’re trying to carry that on and build off the tradition we already have.”
Garrett said he’s glad to have someone of Sparks’s caliber to help anchor the Panther defense.
“He (Sparks) has been all-state two years in a row at linebacker, so he’s a huge returner,” Garrett said. “Carmen Barkley, we’re transitioning him into a new role on defense. He’s really done a good job at that linebacker position since he’s kind of moved into that role since I’ve gotten here. Malachi Orr will play running back for us, play a pony position for us. He’s been impressive. When he’s on the field, when it’s time to snap the ball, he’s full speed. Up front, Bryant Patton is a senior lineman. He’s a little hurt right now, but he’ll be back pretty soon.”
And it isn’t just the senior class Garrett is excited about. Garrett said he’s been impressed with several of his sophomores as well.
“Keaton DeBoard will play corner. He’s also a quarterback and he’ll play a little at receiver as well. We’ve got Jordan Coker who will play offensive line for us. He’s a good one. There’s a lot of them who have been impressive. Another sophomore is Fernando Padilla, who’s another guy who just does everything right. He’ll play some linebacker and some receiver and be a slot back for us as well. We’ve got a freshman in Deon Winsley who’s going to be special. He’s one of the first ones here and last ones to leave. That’s encouraging.”
Even though the Panthers moved up in classification, they have a lot of familiarity with their opponents. With the exception of Ider, Collinsville plays every other team within DeKalb County, including rival and defending state champion Fyffe on Sept. 4.
“I think the kids are really excited about that (move to 3A),” Garrett said. “Our region is all (DeKalb) county schools. We’re going to play a lot of people they’re familiar with. That excites them. We’re playing people we know. We’re playing a bunch of rivals. I think that motivates them to be like ‘Hey, we want to beat these guys.’ I think that’s a motivating factor. We’ll find out for real where we are Aug. 21 (at Section).”
COACH DANIEL GARRETT: