One of the most watched programs in the Atlanta area this fall will be Southwest DeKalb, which will be in its third season of its rebuild under coach Damien Wimes. The Panthers have made strides toward regaining the old SWD swagger and is poised to take the next step when they begin spring practice in April.
“What we’re doing is a process,” Wimes said. “You add a piece here. You visit other schools to make sure you’re doing it the right way. It’s all a process.”
Wimes has brought stability back to the program that was rocked by the untimely death of coach Michael Tanks in 2016. Wimes followed interim coach Fletcher Salter in 2017, went 8-4 and got the Panthers deeper in the state playoffs. The 2018 regular season was magical – a win over Stephenson and the first unbeaten regular season since 1999 – but ended with an unexpected first-round playoff loss.
With much of that team returning – and more determined than ever – the Panthers should again be one of the teams to watch.
“We’ve got a chance to be pretty good,” Wimes said.
The Panthers will add a few more tricks to the offense. They were limited last year when two quarterbacks bolted and Wimes made the decision to start Rion White, a 6-foot-5 basketball player, as a replacement for 1,800-yard passer Justin Tomlin, who signed with Georgia Southern.
White had a good sophomore season. He grew in the offense and wound up throwing for 986 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s expected to improve expondentially.
He’ll have targets, too, in Aquil Muhammad, Tommy Wright and Tridavion Slaughter. Muhammad (26 catchers, four touchdowns) is an all-state caliber receiver who has an offer from Grambling, as is Wright at defensive back (where he’s been offered by Memphis).
The defense looks to build on last year’s reputation as a takeaway machine. The Panthers recovered 32 fumbles and came up with 12 interceptions. Their 44 turnovers were 16 better than anyone else in DeKalb County. Southwest definitely likes to get after it.
Although the Panthers lost sackmasters Joshua Tate and Kazin Glenn to graduation, they return John Grant, who was fourth in the county with 10 sacks, and Darrionque Finley, who was seventh with nine. Also back will be Keiun Neal, who caused five fumbles, and Ahmond Spivey, who had three interceptions. Finley also recovered six fumbles.
Grant had all-state numbers last year, adding 55 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and two fumble recovers.
Southwest DeKalb will begin its spring football practice at the end of April, with a spring game scheduled for May 25 against King. In the meantime, Wimes has his football players involved with other spring sports.
“Each sport teaches them something else,” Wimes said, adding the players are also doing yoga to help improve flexibility.
Wimes said his goals for the spring are to put some new wrinkles in the offense, identify some kickers, and “get some of the younger guys up to speed.”
The school is also building a new weight room and Wimes is reestablishing the roots of the program through local clinics and camps with area elementary and middle schools.
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