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Howard hoping to maintain Panthers’ winning culture in move back to 1A

Spring Garden football coach Jason Howard, right, gives direction at a practice during the 2020 season in this file photo. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

CENTRE – With the turnover rate of football coaches in recent years throughout Cherokee County, Spring Garden’s Jason Howard has become its dean.

This upcoming season – the Panthers first in Class 1A since 2019 – will mark Howard’s 18th at Spring Garden. He’s the all-time winningest coach in the program’s history with an 119-76 record, including 13 playoff victories. The school announced plans to name the football field in his honor back in February.

One could say Howard knows a thing or two about culture.

That was one of Howard’s talking points Saturday at the second Cherokee County Football Media Day, hosted by Easy Street restaurant in Centre. Coaches and players from Gaylesville, Sand Rock, Cherokee County and Cedar Bluff were also in attendance.

“I feel like everybody throws around that word culture,” Howard said. “Everybody’s culture this, culture that. When you talk about establishing a culture, it’s not something that’s done immediately. This is something that goes back 10-15 years, building up the foundation that was laid with those guys who came through in 06, 07 and 08, learning how to win. The group behind them, seeing them how to win and take it a step further, and another group taking it a step further. Culture is something that I don’t think you build. I think it happens.”

One thing Howard said the Panthers are blessed with is all their coaches buy into the same philosophy and the players have grown up with it.

“Any time you get a new coach who comes into a school, we’re going to change the culture,” he said. “Culture is something that goes on for a long period of time. When people ask us about our culture, you can’t pinpoint it. It’s just something that has developed over years.”

Howard and the Panthers are hoping their recent experiences and successes in 2A translate well in their move back down to Class 1A. But don’t think for one minute the Panthers think they’re going to cakewalk in their new region, which includes defending 1A runner-up Wadley, second-round playoff participants Ragland and Winterboro, and Donoho, Talladega County Central and Victory Christian.

“I feel like we went into one of the toughest 1A regions around,” Howard said. “Us coming into that region, the North champion from last year in 1A (Wadley) was in there. Winterboro is really good. Donoho’s got a new coach in. It’s going to be a tough region to go into. It’s the region before we went 2A that we came out of.”

“I think it’s some big shoes for us to fill since we lost a lot of seniors, but I think we can make a good playoff run this year,” junior center/defensive tackle Jacob Dempsey said. “I’m pretty excited to be moving back down to 1A. We’ve always played in 2A since we’ve played, and it was a very good experience.”

“It’s going to be different, but I don’t think it’s going to be easier,” sophomore lineman Jacob Welsh said. “(Class) 2A has prepared us for that region. It’s going to be one of the hardest regions around.”

After hosting Handley, Etowah, Ohatchee and Ranburne in a jamboree on Aug. 12, the Panthers begin the 2022 season on Aug. 18 by hosting county rival Sand Rock. They also travel to another county rival, Cedar Bluff, on Sept. 23.

“I think this year one of the keys to us having a successful year is they’ll be a lot of players that filled certain roles the last couple of years, their roles will change on the team, whether it be more of a leadership role or a front-type role,” Howard said. “If these guys step up and accept that responsibility, that will be good.”

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