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Portal enthusiastic at first practice

    Spirits were high as the Portal Panthers took the practice field for the first time this fall as coach Justin Chester and his staff started evaluating his team and filling in the holes on the depth chart on an overcast and damp Wednesday on the PHS campus.
    One thing that stood out the most to the coaching staff: along with the spotty rain, there was excitement in the air.
    “The attitude was great today,” said Chester. “From the time we started stretching to right now as we’re wrapping things up and getting ready to do our sprints, the attitude and leadership is great — a lot better than it was last year at this time. Guys seem excited, committed and ready to work. The weaknesses that we do have, I feel like they’ll be a lot stronger by the time we go to Morgan County (on August 31st).”
    With the depth chart wide open, Chester feels as though everyone is working a little bit harder heading into the much anticipated opening kickoff. A lot of players are fighting for that No. 1 spot in their position, most notably on the offensive line. Gaps in the line, especially at the offensive guard position, have many guys fighting to get into that starting front five.
    Joe Williams, Trey Seamans and others all put up a good case for themselves on the O-line, giving 2006 starter Parker Goodman a run for his money, which put Chester at ease about the position.
    Another position with some healthy competition is the quarterback position. The departure of Brandon Mock has left the position up in the air for the time being, and Nick Boggs and Stephen Cox are fighting to step in and fill Mock’s shoes as the No. 1 signal caller.
    “At a small school like Portal,” Chester said, “if you’re able to have competition for a starting position, that’s good. Usually up here, somebody with a little bit of talent can kind of sit on a position and feel pretty comfortable. If we are able to have a battle at every spot, hey, that makes guys practice harder. When we’re grading practices and sitting around at a meeting talking about how a person did that day, they want to make sure they got a good report.”
    Another position Portal will need to sure up is kicker. The absence of Tagg Lanier —another graduated senior who was a four-year starter on special teams as well as the linebacker position — has left the spot vacant. That is just one more thing the coaching staff will address in upcoming practices as the first game approaches.
    Class A schools find themselves at a disadvantage against higher classifications due simply to their size. With only around 40 players taking the field for the Panthers, Chester is relieved that his team is starting off the practice season virtually injury-free.
    Travis Budget and Octavious Rawls have come a long way in recovering from injury, and Parker Goodman, a starting guard in 2006 is still waiting to clear his physical, but as a whole, the team is healthy and greatly anticipating the last day of August and the first football game of 2007.

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

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