Tucked off in the woods between I-10 and I-12, sits a football field at Woodlawn High School that holds a rich history of success within its white lines. A consistent playoff contender from the 1980s to the early 2000s, the Woodlawn Panthers had seemed to have regressed significantly over the last decade, at least up until recently. Since 2010, the Panthers have had 4 different head coaches, only 4 winning seasons, and their most recent playoff victory was a story told like a folk tale from 2010. This all changed, however, at the start of the 2019 season. After a disappointing 2-9 record and finishing 5th in the district in 2018, Woodlawn went on the hunt for a new head coach.
Luckily for the Panthers, they wouldn’t have to look far. Former LSU standout and former Woodlawn coaching assistant Marcus Randall stepped in to fill the position and begin the change of culture that would eventually lead Woodlawn into the title contender it is today. Everyone knows that Rome was not built in a day, and no one could expect Randall to come in year one, take a team that finished 2-9, and turn them into contenders in one season. When I spoke with Coach Randall, one of the first things I asked about what his first year. I wanted to know what his mindset was, and how he approached building a team how he wanted it to be.
“It’s not like there was not already a foundation. It was there, but we moved up from 4A to 5A my first year. We had to change and grow up to play in this 5A district we are in. We had to build on depth. We didn’t need guys playing both ways. We needed to be fresh out there.”Head Coach, Marcus Randall
Coach Randall has done a great job of building his roster up for that depth he desired. When he first began coaching at Woodlawn, there were about 60 players total. Now, he has boosted that number closer to 110 players.
Fast forward to the 2022 season, and the Woodlawn Panthers have turned this program into a perennial contender in a district with even higher hopes this season. Even with a slow start to the season, hopes around the team are high. Explosive players like Rickie Collins and Tramon Douglas II are just as likely to make an explosive play as Jordan Matthews and Mark Fielder are to have a momentum-shifting defensive highlight. Rickie Collins and Jordan Matthews were freshman when Marcus Randall started coaching for the Panthers, so I asked what that conversation was like with them as underclassmen, and if he realized he had two of the most dynamic playmakers in the country on his hands.
“I mostly knew what they were made of and the potential they had. They both come from athletic families, and both have the best work ethic you can ask for in two leaders.”Head Coach, Marcus Randall
With the leadership of the returning upperclassmen, and the younger athletes stepping up, this Woodlawn Panthers team is looking to strike while the iron is hot. They are shaping up to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
With a schedule that features five teams in the top 25 in the state, and two teams in the top 100 in the nation, the Panthers will need to play at their highest level. These are some young men that can lead the way this season:
DL Mark Fielder is a wrecking ball in the trenches. The 6’3’’, 270-pound monster earned 1st team All-District honors after a standout 2021 campaign. Just because he is big and aggressive to the ball, does not mean he sacrifices technique. His combination of footwork, use of hands, and an explosive first step could lead to another great season.
DL Devyn Jones is yet another elite pass rusher for the Panthers and makes a great 1-2 punch when paired with Fielder. He is extremely strong off the line and is able to move blockers to get to the ball. This makes him an elite run stopper, but his plethora of moves allows him to get to the quarter back in the blink of an eye.
RB Jayveon Haynes boasts incredible open field speed. Even while sharing touches last season, he still was awarded 2nd Team All-District. Haynes is truly a multi-purpose player out of the backfield. His ability to run strong inside, catch the ball out of the backfield, and his home run play tendencies make him an explosive and scary running back that every team will be forced to game plan for.
LB Chris Cooper was a name that came up as someone who is on the verge of a breakout season. Cooper is a smash mouth linebacker who has great field awareness and play recognition skills. His speed allows him to quickly traverse sideline to sideline, and his quick thinking allows him to fill gaps in the run game. He can be a true difference maker with more games under his belt.
WR Tramon Douglas II is a 5’10’’, 170-pound receiver who also happens to be an elite track star. This speed shows on the field. His speed and quickness translate over between the lines on Friday nights. He can take the top off the defense but is quick enough to turn a 5-yard slant into a touchdown in the blink of an eye. He will be at the forefront of the explosive offense that is coming out of Woodlawn this season.