HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Episode 15 of On the Road with Olivia and Claudia features two rival programs from the Huntsville City limits: Huntsville and Grissom.
Starting with the Panthers from Huntsville High, a program that saw some positives and success in 2022; they finished third in Class 7A Region 4 with a 6-5 overall record and the Panthers had their first postseason appearance since 2017 but they’re not satisfied with last year’s results.
“We want to beat more than one ranked team and we want to get past the first round and take it farther than we did,” head coach Mark Fleetwood said. “We don’t just want to be in the playoffs… let’s try to win the region. That’s something that hasn’t been done in a long time, so that’s sort of a goal.”
Fleetwood says his guys are totally on board with wanting to take this program to the next step, and they’ve been working hard all off-season to help try and make that happen.
“A lot of these guys have played together a long time since the little leagues,” Fleetwood said. “There’s a tight group here who’s been around each other and that’s what’s exciting to see them grow and see them compete and get better. To see that there is not a mindset of ‘hey we did okay last year, we’re fine.’ No, it’s not enough to see the sense of urgency about our workouts. A lot of hard work has been put in and it’s time to sort of see the fruits of our labor. We have a lot of people back but with that you’ve got to turn it up even more. Just because we’re coming back doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. We’ve got to do something to go prove that and usually the working hard satisfies a lot of that.”
Up next, we have the Grissom Tigers who finished 3-7 in 2022. Head coach Rich Dutton is entering his third season leading this program and so far he’s most impressed with the maturity his group is showing this year.
“They’ve learned this new offense we’re running very quickly,” Dutton said. “We have some players who have had trouble in the past and they show up every day and they’re starting to nurture and bring up players with their energy and the way that they’re attacking the season, so that maturation process has been fun to see.”
It’s no secret the Tigers would like to see more success than they have had in recent years, and Dutton says they’re approaching this season with the mindset of changing the program’s reputation.
“We’ve spent pretty much every day from last season to now studying, learning and meeting together in leadership panels, discussing where we’re weak at together, being blunt, honest and being big enough to take personal criticism and turn it into growth,” Dutton said. “We understand why Grissom’s record has been what it’s been against our region opponents and trying to get through that stigma before kickoff but I think the players have done an amazing job to approach that.”
The Panthers have a bye for the first week of the season and will open at Oxford on September 1; the Tigers will travel to Russellville on Friday, August 25.