Providence High football coach Randy Long doesn't want to talk about the rest of the Southwestern 4A conference. He hasn't even started thinking about the Panthers' season opener against Hopewell.
"I ain't worried about them," he said. "We're worried about us right now. We're all about us right now and we know it's a strong conference from top to bottom."
Providence has enough question marks going into the 2011 season. So it's not surprising that the coach isn't thinking about the opposition.
After going 5-6 last year (4-3 SW4A) and losing in the first round of the playoffs 35-0 to Richmond Senior, the Panthers lost many starters in important positions, especially on offense.
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The most glaring opening is at quarterback after the departure of versatile all-conference senior Chauncey Concepcion.
Junior James Haigh is the leading candidate for the job after backing up Concepcion last year and playing at the Catawba 7-on-7 camp in July, but the position is far from guaranteed. Sophomore Jalen Parks and junior Xander Maddox also have a shot at the starting position.
Either way, Providence's offense is likely to change. At 5-foot-8, Concepcion was quick in the backfield and could elude pass rushers and gain yardage on the ground as well as in the air. Depending on the starting quarterback, that versatility could go away.
"We're going to be a different team this year," said Long. "We're going to take what we have and build around it. Bottom line is it's all about moving the football and getting first downs and touchdowns. Maybe we won't be quite as mobile in one area but maybe more so in another area."
The Panthers also lost all-conference running back Chris Williams and receivers Ben England (all-conference) and Alex Blackwell.
Senior Austin Rea is expected to be the starter at running back this year and seniors Matt Yates and Zack Castano will be the main receiving threats.
An important factor for Providence is the offensive line. A less experienced quarterback will need plenty of time in the pocket, and Long wants to focus on improving the Panthers run game this year. Two returning all-conference tackles, Harrison Monk and Bentley Spain, should help.
"Those guys have gotten bigger and stronger in the offseason and I feel like they're going to anchor our line down," said Long.
Three returning starters will also bolster the defensive line, led by all-conference junior Daniel Garces. Sam Dugdale and Jaleel Roberts will be up front on defense. Seniors Justin Askew and Impa Kasanganay will play linebacker for the Panthers with several other players competing for playing time.
The secondary was also depleted after last season with the graduation of Chris Shaffer, Grey Edwards and Derrick Battle. Maddox is the only returning starter in the secondary and will be joined by senior Chris Campolieta, who moved over from receiver.
One of the biggest problems for Providence last year was consistency. In the final three games of last season, Providence beat East Mecklenburg 62-12, then lost to Ardrey Kell 64-29 before getting shut out by Richmond in the first playoff game.
For Providence to finish high in the conference this year, the Panthers will have to compete every night, something they didn't do last year.