Leading the way for the Panthers this season will be head coach Casey Coulter, who, entering his fourth season, is confident in his team will perform well.
“This is by far the biggest group of upperclassmen I’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Coulter. “It’s the kids who have put in all the work. Now it’s their time to enjoy a little success.”
Seniors anchor talented offense
Key to the Panthers success this season will be the team’s ability to score points and move the ball.
To do so, the Panthers will utilize a run-oriented attack designed to capitalize on the team’s strong running backs and offensive line.
“We switched it up, and we’re going to run a lot more,” said Coulter. “We have a lot of big kids, and we feel we can take advantage of that.”
Keying the rushing attack will senior all-conference running back Randy Haley, who rushed for 898 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
“We switched things up so it’s not as easy to key what we’re doing,” said Haley, discussing the team’s running game. “We have a lot more plays and stuff we can do.”
Also figuring to factor heavily into the Panthers rushing attack will be senior quarterback Jonathan Walck, whose speed and power have given opponents fits in the past.
“Our goal is to improve,” said Walck. “Everybody has been working hard, and we’re expecting some good results.”
Lining up at receiver for the Panthers will be juniors Austin Bayles and Ryan Gurney. According to Coulter, both receivers could enjoy breakout seasons.
Rounding out the Panthers offensive attack will be sophomore tight end Seth Long, junior lineman Victor Perez and senior linemen Dante Dennison and Elijah Lansing.
“This year, our line is looking pretty good,” said Dennison. “We’re going to be the biggest physical force out there. We’re looking to dominate on both sides of the ball.”
Panthers defense hopes to be stout
On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers will look to many of their offensive stars to limit scoring opportunities and force turnovers.
According to Coulter, the team’s defensive scheme will vary week to week, but will generally consist of a base defense with four down lineman and four linebackers.
Among the linebackers expected to make an impact are Haley, Walck, junior Ian Roberson and senior Justice Ramos. Gurney will line up at safety for the Panthers while Bayles and sophomore Josh Ramos will start at cornerback.
Several defensive linemen Dennison, Lansing, Perez and sophomore Elijah Singer figure to contribute to the Panthers defense as well.
Schedule features winnable games
After playing at the 3A level for the past several years, the Panthers will play at the 2A level this year as a member of the Western Slope League.
League matchups include home games against Pagosa Springs (Oct. 3) and Alamosa (Oct. 24) and road games against Gunnison (Sept. 26), Bayfield (Oct. 10) and Olathe (Oct. 17). Non-league games include a road matchup against Miyamura (Sept. 5) and home games against Grand Junction Central (Sept. 12) and Ignacio (Sept. 19).
The Panthers will open their season with a home game versus Aspen, which will take place on Aug. 22 at 7 p.m.
“(Aspen) will be a nice gauge to see where we’re at in 2A,” said Coulter of the upcoming matchup.