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File / The Observer Coach Jordan Cantrell said he has seen his players grow closer by working together to get better during the offseason.

The theme surrounding Burt-Haynie Field in Eclectic has not shifted at all during the offseason. Panther coach Jordan Cantrell is preparing the Elmore County football team for what could be a tough season with a young group by getting his players to focus on the weight room over the last seven months.

“The weight room is where it all starts,” Cantrell said. “That’s where the attitude of the team comes from and that’s where you build that mental toughness. From January to now, we’ve really improved there and developed that work ethic we like to see from our players.”

While the focus has not changed since the start of the year, the coaching staff has noticed plenty of improvement in the weight room. The Panthers wrapped up their summer period with two more workouts this week and Cantrell said he has seen those improvements from the workouts transfer over to the performances on the field.

“They have worked really hard this summer,” Cantrell said. “The turnout has been great and they have all met the expectations we set for them. It has been very pleasing to see how much we have improved since the spring.”

Elmore County haven’t gotten a lot of reps with and against other teammates as players have shifted throughout the lineup on both sides of the ball during the summer. The Panthers saw their lone competition against another team earlier this month when they hosted Pike Road for an OTAs session.

Cantrell said his team got plenty of work in through running drills, 1-on-1 blocking drills, 7-on-7 camps and 11-on-11 team sets. The Panthers were forced to face players they do not see every day and Cantrell was pleased with the experience they got from the event.

“It’s all about competition,” Cantrell said. “We compete against each other during the summer but when you have someone else come over to your place, it’s a little different. It really pressed our guys to compete at a higher level and they stepped up.”

The Panthers have rotated a lot of players through their workouts because they have seen a higher turnout than normal during the offseason. While Cantrell admitted having the numbers is nice, he said it is about quality over quantity.

“The numbers have been great but we want sold-out guys,” Cantrell said. “We want players that want to do things right and have the desire and dedication to be a part of our team. You lose guys along the way but that’s just going to happen.”

Cantrell has still been pleased with the desire he has seen from most of the players on the team and it is causing the coaching staff to question starters on both sides of the ball. Cantrell said there are still plenty of positions open and he wants to see players set themselves apart before making any decisions.

“Until you get the pads on, there will still be questions about who can take over as a starter,” Cantrell said. “Once we get a few weeks of that and see how they perform there, it will start falling together. We’ll start seeing how that happens in the next couple of weeks.”

Despite the position battles, Cantrell said he has seen the players work together and make each other better through the competitions on the field and in the weight room. He said the newcomers have been welcomed and he is confident with the team’s chemistry entering the new season.

“Our team has definitely gotten closer,” Cantrell said. “We have a lot of young guys on our team who know how to work really hard. The current group of seniors took them under their wing and we really like how those relationships are developing.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.