COLLINSVILLE — When offseason workouts were pushed back to June due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19, Collinsville was in the process of bringing in new head football coach Daniel Garrett.
Garrett, whose hiring was announced on Collinsville High School’s Facebook page March 30, went to work meeting players via Zoom conferences. From there, Garrett and his coaching staff began preparing players for the team’s new schemes.
The delayed start to summer workouts turned out to not be such a bad thing for the Panthers.
“It’s actually worked out well for us by the fact that we’ve had more time to focus on the installation of things, learning terminology and things like that,” Garrett told The Times-Journal before a team workout Monday afternoon. “Going on the field in June, we were more separate as far as skill and linemen, but we were really able to focus on what we were doing schematically.”
Garrett said the virtual work this spring allowed players to better absorb the new information.
The Alabama High School Athletic Association cancelled all summer competitions, including 7-on-7 tournaments and organized team activities. So as the Panthers prepare for a fresh season under the most unusual circumstances in the history of high school football, they’ve been limited to weight training, conditioning and skill development training this summer.
Collinsville’s offense will be doing some new things this season, things that Garrett aims to use the team’s strength of speed in combination with some offensive schemes he’s incorporating from his previous coaching stops.
“I want us to be explosive,” Garrett said. “We have a lot of speed and we want to utilize that in as many ways as possible.
“We’ll have some run-pass option components. I think a lot of people will have an opportunity to touch the ball. It’s going to be a different type of scheme than they’ve run around here in the past and I think it’s an exciting thing to be a part of.”
The offense will rely heavily on its skill position players in the early portion of the season.
Senior Bryant Patton is the lone starting offensive lineman to return after graduation swept away the Panthers’ starting experience with the group, including Isaac Tillery, who signed with Birmingham-Southern College this offseason.
Dalton Hughes, a senior, will be the starting quarterback. Sophomore Keaton DeBoard will be the backup QB and play some as an outside receiver. Hughes steps in after the graduation of Kaleb Jones, who helped guide the Panthers to a semifinal appearance in the Class 2A state playoffs last season and signed with Jacksonville State University.
Senior Carmen Barkley returns at wide receiver with fellow senior Blake Sparks at tight end. Others at the position include senior Jacob Jones, junior Billy Briggs, freshman Deon Winsley and sophomore Fernando Padilla.
Malachi Orr, a senior, returns at running back. Winsley will also be featured in the backfield.
“The last two weeks were about when we got (the offense) down,” Sparks said.
Defensively, the Panthers will operate out of a 3-3 stack formation that thrives on the speed of its players. It includes three down linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs
“It’s something I ran at Madison Academy,” Garrett said. “I feel like speed is our strength, so we want to get as many athletes on the field as possible, move around and disguise everything that we’re doing.”
Patton returns to the defensive line. Junior Braxton Wright will also play on the line, as well as at linebacker. Senior Elijah Mitchem and junior Seth Brown are other defensive lineman options.
“Lineman is where we have more competition as far as people searching to prove themselves,” Garrett said.
Sparks returns to start at middle linebacker. Other linebackers include Padilla, Barkley, Orr and Hughes.
The secondary will consist of Winsley, Briggs, Jones, DeBoard and junior Carson Dennis.
Freshman John David Vargas will perform kicking and punting duties.
Garrett was the defensive coordinator at Madison County before agreeing to become Collinsville’s next head football coach. He’s been a part of two state championship coaching staffs. He was the defensive coordinator for Hartselle during its 2011 Class 5A state championship run, before helping Nashville, Tenn., powerhouse Ravenwood capture a 2015 title, coaching outside linebackers and special teams.
Along with their new head coach, the Panthers will also be advancing in classification from 2A to 3A. They’ll play in 3A’s Region 7 where they’ll battle for postseason position with familiar opponents. The region includes Fyffe, Sylvania, Plainview, Geraldine, Brindlee Mountain and Asbury.
“It’s kind of a new time here,” Garrett said. “We have a new coach in a new league. We’re in a league that’s full of DeKalb County schools. So I think it’s an exciting time to be a part of our program. We have some new people we’re going to be playing who we all know that should bring a crowd.”