E.A. Sports Today

Keeping it going

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

By Shannon Fagan
Special to East Alabama Sports Today

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

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. 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 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 (Jeremy Satcher). It’s going to be a tough region to go into. It’s the region before we went 2A that we came out of.”

Here are the thoughts of some of the Spring Garden players at the podium

“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 at home against county rival Sand Rock. They also travel to another county rival, Cedar Bluff 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.”

Shannon Fagan is Sports Director of WEIS Radio

Spring Garden 2022 schedule

Aug. 18Sand Rock
Aug. 26at Coosa Christian
Sept. 2Wadley
Sept. 9at Victory Christian
Sept. 16Winterboro
Sept. 23at Cedar Bluff
Sept. 30at Talladega Co. Cent.
Oct. 7at Pleasant Valley
Oct. 14Donoho
Oct. 21at Ragland

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