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Panthers already concerned with depth

    The Portal Panthers have made three straight playoff appearances, and as they work toward the fourth, the expectations of the Portal faithful have gone up. Meeting those expectations has not gotten any easier.
    Familiar names throughout those playoff appearances — names like Fred Williams, Clayton Williams, Brandon Mock and Tagg Lanier, as well as some big guys down in the trenches — have graduated and will not be gracing the 2007 roster. With the start of today’s practice, coach Justin Chester has his work cut out for him in plugging those holes.
    “Just like any other program,” said Chester, “you’ve got to re-load. That’s what we’re doing here. Some of the guys we had in spring, they did a good job for us. (Over the summer) in the weight room, we’ve gotten bigger, faster, stronger. Now it’s just a matter of going through the fall drills and putting all of the missing pieces of the puzzle together. The biggest concern is depth.”
    Portal (Region 3-A) will open the 2007 season with four consecutive non-region games against Class AA teams, so Chester is concerned with preserving his team through that brutal stretch.
    During the month leading up to PHS’s first kickoff, a road game against Morgan County on August 31, Chester will be focusing on filling each position and limiting the use of players on both sides of the ball. While it will be almost impossible to limit the roles of every player — Chester expects around 40 at today’s practice  — the team will be working on finding a balance between putting a competitive team on the field and not tiring out as games wear on.
    “You play 48 minutes, and when you open up with four AA schools like we do,” Chester said, “we are playing teams that have the luxury of having an offense and a defense. We don’t want to be in a situation where we can play good for three quarters, and in the fourth quarter, get warn down because we’re tired. Conditioning will be very important for us because we want to make sure that we’re in shape. If we do have a few players playing offense, defense and some special teams, they can give us their best because we trained them well.”
    A huge factor when it comes to conditioning in southeast Georgia is the heat. While heat can aid in the building of endurance and in athletic conditioning in general, Chester wants to make sure to keep his team safe.
    “We check the temperature and allow the guys to have a water break every 10-15 minutes, just for safety reasons” said Chester. “If this is some of these guys first time in that heat, they’re going to struggle. Each coach is going to be watching their group very carefully, and if a young man needs some water, we’ll be sure we get it to him, but at the same time, we are going to push these guys.”
    Football practice begins today at 3:30 p.m. at Portal Middle High School and runs until 5:30 p.m.

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.

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