Friendly competition

A group of Panthers participate in drills during a spring football practice.

PELL CITY -- Pell City High School’s football team will play its spring game in two separate halves against Montevallo at 6:20 p.m. and Munford at 7:40 on Saturday at Munford Stadium.

Panthers head coach Wayne Lee said facing the Lions and Bulldogs would be good preparation as the team adjusts to its move from Region 3 in Class 6A to Region 6. Pell City’s opponents in its new region -- Oxford, Shades Valley, Clay-Chalkville, Huffman, Gardendale and defending state champion Pinson Valley -- combined for a 56-19 record in 2017.

“Both of those schools (in the spring game) have plenty of speed, and that’s the thing -- you want to go against speed because … everybody knows who is in our region and what those teams have got,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of speed, so I think (the spring game) will be a good gauge for us to see that kind of speed.”

Lee said he hopes to see plenty of effort from his team.

“I want to see us line up and get after people,” he said. “I want to see us being in the right spot, making plays when they’re available to be made and doing what they’re coached to do. That’s the main thing -- seeing who is taking the coaching, doing what they’re supposed to do and is able to do it at a high speed.”

The first-year head coach added spring practices have gone well for his squad and for a coaching staff that remained mostly intact when previous head coach Keith Etheredge stepped down to take the coaching job at T.R. Miller in December.

“The energy level is up, and the kids are buying into what we’re trying to do right now,” Lee said. “It’s been a good spring, and yeah, it is easier having basically everyone here that’s coaching right now (with the team) last year. It’s been an easy transition.”

Lee said the Panthers have several position battles underway, including a search for a quarterback to replace last season’s signal-callers, Braden Crow and Jackson Burkhalter. Crow, a departing senior, signed with Mississippi College in February, while Burkhalter and wide receiver Christian Burkhalter transferred to Spanish Fort.

“Mitchell Gossett’s ahead, and he’ll start in the spring game,” Lee said. “Kolten Fincher’s back out here playing football and doing a good job. The running backs, we’ve got a little depth at running back. It’s good to watch them. They’re battling it out for playing time right now.

“I guess the biggest battle going on right now is getting the five correct offensive linemen on the field. That’s the big battle is to see who those five are going to be.”

Lee said veteran players Darius Garrett, Brett Staples and Collier Slovensky have been among the spring practice standouts. He added his returning defensive players have put together a strong showing.

“The defensive line and those guys have been intact for awhile now,” Lee said. “I guess it’s easier to the guys on defense to stand out a little bit more because there’s no change. The whole defensive staff is back, so everything from the terminology to the way we practice, they’re already used to it. I’d say the defense is definitely ahead of the offense right now, but we’ll catch up.”

Lee said defensive lineman Avery Weiss has stepped up as a leader and motivator along with Garrett.

“(Weiss) is just a high-energy, big-motor guy who is always going 110 percent,” Lee said. “There’s no question about that. He’s the guy that’s always going to be full of energy and keeps them going.

“From an offensive standpoint, Garrett is a guy that’s always going to be full of energy … Those are two guys that really stand out as leaders for us.”

Weiss said he understands the role he plays for the Panthers.

“My role, I feel like, is just keeping everybody in practice working hard,” he said. “I can tell we’ve got a big schedule coming up, and it’s just going to be (that) everybody’s going to have to come together.

“We’ve got a new offensive front. Our defense is coming back strong … Defense is set. We’re just working to give our offense good looks and just coming out here with a great attitude, motivated and ready to put in the work.”

On offense, Lee said the team won’t see many changes in a style that has become pretty common among teams.

“There will be some stuff different, but everybody’s offense is basically the same now,” he said. “Everybody’s running one-back and mixing in some two-back stuff pretty much out of the gun, but every once in a while, getting under center. There will be a little bit of different stuff than what we had last year.”