2011 outcome: The Panthers had a relatively young and inexperienced team last season that ended the year at 3-6, including a nail-biter loss by a field goal as time expired against Hen Hud.
Biggest losses: TE/LB Ryan Piazza, HB/CB Ray Stewart, HB/CB Joe Shocker, OL/DL Brandon Saba.
Key returners: QB Liam Hagens, WR/CB Jimmy Jackson, OL/DL Marc Jones, HB/LB Anthony Conti, FB/LB John Brophy.
X-factor: Can an inexperienced backfield keep up with a deep, gifted front line? The strength of this Panthers team is undoubtedly its offensive and defensive lines. Most starters from last year’s O-line return, including Jones, OG Jesse Czuy, OT Mike Dejesus, C Eric Reyes and OG Thomas Guzzo. All but Czuy and Reyes are seniors. The skill players Panas possesses are newer to the squad and most will be playing varsity football for the first time. If they can get up to speed on the offensive game plan and mesh with that front unit, Panas could have a surprising offense this year.
• The Panthers, though inexperienced at places, will have great depth at the skill positions. Top playmaker Jackson returns at wide receiver, but he’ll act as a scatback, receiving handoffs in motion and touches at halfback. Other than that, expect contributions from an array of players that include Conti, FB/LB Russell Mlynar, WR/CB Chris Spell, and WR/CB William Hodge, among others.
• A player to watch is Spell. He’s listed at 5-foot-5 but has great jumping ability from what I saw at practice. Running a couple posts, the senior wideout was able to jump over corners and snatch the ball from their sight. Hagens told me there’s video somewhere on YouTube of Spell dunking a basketball.
(Edit, by Josh: And here it is…)
• Hagens is definitely the man under center for coach Dan Patronik. The Panthers are running the same offense they ran last year — a lot of running from the Power-I and passing out of the shotgun — and Hagens is glad for the continuity; it’s the same offense he ran at the JV level last season. He told me to expect about an even split between the run and the pass. With such an experienced and deep line, Patronik has the ability to call what he wants without having to worry about protection.
• The Panthers will return to a 4-4 defense after running a 4-3 last season. The switch comes with the personnel, and Patronik obviously thinks he’s strong up front. Top linebackers include Brophy, Mlynar and Kevin Miranda. Patronik expects Jones to be his best defensive lineman this year but look for a contribution from DE Corey Dean, who looked big and long (he’s listed at 6-3, 190 pounds) while running scout defense during practice.
• A little love for the kickers here. I spoke with PK Nick Beato, who has a twin brother in P Chris Beato. Both switched from soccer to football this year as seniors. Nick told me that he’s been able to kick from as deep as 45 yards during practice, and I bring it up because the Panthers lost to Hen Hud last season, 16-14, on a game decided by a last second field goal. If the former soccer players can bring that talent over to the gridiron, resulting in an increase in converted FGs and better field position for their defense, the Panthers might be able to swing a game or two during the season.
• In total the Panthers have more than 20 seniors on the roster. How many times do you see teams full of experience come out of nowhere to have a surprising and memorable year?