By Doug Gorman
After back-to-back 3-7 seasons, the Forest Park Panthers football team is looking for some kind of spark as the team prepares for its season opener on Aug. 29 against Lovejoy.
New football coach Howard Sterns is hoping to be the man who lights the fuse for the Panthers who are seeking to return to the playoffs for the first time since 1996 when they finished with a 7-4 record.
Forest Park's new coach comes to the Southern Crescent after a stint as an assistant at Dougherty High School in Albany.
"Basically, I wanted to be a head coach again," he said. "I'm excited about being here, and am really enjoying it."
Sterns has welcomed a squad of about 60 players back to practice. As mandated by the Georgia High School Association, this is the first week schools can practice in full football gear.
In an effort to beat the heat, Forest Park is beginning its practice sessions at 6 p.m.
Forest Park's new coach takes over for Bob Smith, who resigned last year citing health reasons.
Sterns hopes to create a winning attitude within his football team by preaching the benefits of hard work.
"The challenge is convincing the kids about how much hard work they have to do in order to get better," Sterns said.
The coach is pleased with the team's work ethic this summer as most of the team took part in the summer's voluntary weightlifting program.
Assistant coach Ron Chaffin, who also served on Smith's staff, called this year's summer weight training program one of the best in the six years he's been at Forest Park.
"I think they know now how important it is to get stronger," Chaffin said.
Although Sterns is trying to get the Panthers back to the level where they were during the mid-90s when they made the playoffs in 1994, 95 and 96, he doesn't have to rebuild the program from scratch.
Running back Ronald Baker, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, enters his senior season as one of the Panthers' offensive catalysts.
Also cited for solid practices so far are:
Anthony Harvey, who should play both quarterback and in the defensive secondary.
Lance Lewis, who plays in the secondary on defense and wide receiver on offense has also stood out.
Offensive lineman Tim Wallace has also looked sharp through Forest Park's early practice sessions.