ECHS football practice

File / The Herald Elmore County goes through summer workouts in the 2020 offseason.

Elmore County football’s spring practices came to a close Thursday with its spring game at Montevallo.

The Panthers fell in the scrimmage 34-27, with both teams’ starters playing the first half and one series of the second half. Montevallo won the varsity portion 27-20.

Working to improve off a 2-8 2020 campaign, Elmore County head coach Jordan Cantrell had several takeaways from the contest about his team going into the summer.

“It was good work for both teams, us and Montevallo,” Cantrell said. “Trying out different guys, seeing who can produce and who has the effort and what it takes to play on Friday nights.”

Elmore County holds a bevy of talented but inexperienced players at wide receiver, running back and defensive back according to Cantrell. The scrimmage Thursday allowed him to experiment with different looks at those positions.

That’s not to say position battles aren’t occurring on the offensive and defensive lines as well.

“We have a good bit of skill guys, but most of them are young, freshmen, tenth graders,” Cantrell said. “We’re trying to find a good mix of them, but also trying to find our front on both sides of the ball.”

The Panthers do have a few dependable names back from 2020, however.

Junior quarterback Payton Stephenson led the team in passing and rushing last year, with 748 and 643 yards, respectively. He was responsible for a team-high 14 touchdowns.

Sophomore wide receiver Jabari Murphy returns as Elmore County’s leading pass catcher with 26 receptions for 371 yards and five of the squad’s eight aerial scores in 2020.

Cantrell noted every position is an open battle for the Panthers, but he enjoyed the gunslinger’s performance Thursday.

“I never want to say somebody has a spot locked down,” Cantrell said. “I always want a competition. [Stephenson] did a great job last night. We didn’t throw the ball too much, and the timing is kind of off in the spring too, you could see that on both sides. But he ran for no telling how many yards.”

One area in which the Panthers are pursuing playmakers is on defense.

Excluding a forfeit due to COVID-19 against Sylacauga, Elmore County surrendered 35 points per game last season, including four contests where it gave up 42 or more.

Outside a few busted plays, Cantrell felt the unit performed well against Montevallo.

“I feel that our defense has improved, and will continue to do so,” Cantrell said. “We’re just looking for sold-out dudes that will run to the football. We’ll get them sound schematically, but we just want crazy effort.”

When asked which names in particular stood out to him from Thursday, Cantrell pointed to senior defensive lineman Christian Stepney and sophomore safety CJ Wilkes.

Elmore County’s season will open in August.