Team Plans for a Playoff Return; But Must Overcome Loss of Key Stars
Photos By Paul Magnuson
Last week, the ’23-’24 school year commenced, which means that the fall sports season officially kicked off and the RE-2 District athletic program reeved up in full gear.
As a result, the Panther football team could be the group most watched this year by local sports fans as they look for a playoff repeat.
Last year, the Panthers had a winning season and made it to their first playoff game in more than two decades. However, they lost in the first round, a defeat that gave the returning players on the team even more motivation to be successful once again this year.
One factor that was clearly evident during recent practice sessions is that the team wants to dominate the pigskin field on both sides of the ball. The cohesiveness of the players is evident just by watching them interact during practice.
The bad news is the team has lost some of their key players from last season. But Panther football players have made it clear that they are going to try even harder because of this development.
The team is young this year with only a handful of seniors, but juniors and underclassmen are ready to pick up the slack. The team sports several juniors who have been starters under head coach Chad Drummond for several years.
The team lost their starting quarterback Bryce Broeker due the star QB relocating to another area, but junior Marqus Schoenberger has stepped up to fill his shoes. During drills, the team’s offense seemed to be on point and executing their plays efficiently.
Super Hungry for a Return to Post-season Play
Coach Drummond is optimistic for the season and stated that they have one goal for the team this year. They are hungry to start 2023, and want to make a return to the playoffs, and hopefully make a run at a state title.
“I’m super excited and the guys are focused as I have ever seen them,” Drummond said. “We have a great group of freshmen coming in again this year. These guys are on a mission after the success we had last year, but we lost two all-state players so we have a lot of guys that need to step up this year.”
He said that just like previous seasons, he is focused on one game at a time. The coach said that the cohesion of the team is their biggest strength going into the 2023 season.
“It is getting better and better every year, but I really think these guys are playing for each other,” Drummond explained. “I think we get a little more out of the guys when their commitment is to their teammates instead of just being out here for themselves.”
But he said that the team could still work on parts of the game like blocking assignments, aggression, and understanding concepts. “Sometimes in football I think you get so stuck on the ‘X’s and ‘O’s that when things happen in live speed you don’t get off of your coaching,” Drummond stated. “Coaches love kids that do what their coached to do and they really love kids that can know when not to do what they were coached to do.”
He said that getting the offense up to par is his first major challenge. With a switch-up in coaching, the team will have new leaders on defense this season.
The players all seem to agree with the coach that their teamwork and culture is strong this year. They also are thrilled to play under Drummond’s coaching style.
And they don’t seem to be bothered by the loss of some of the key player that were on the field last season. “Last year we had three or four guys that were all-stars and we lost those guys,” said linebacker Ben Summeril. “However, this year, we have like 18 guys that you know can get the job done. So instead of having three or four all-stars we have a full team of people that you know are going to get their job done.”
Running back and linebacker Aidan Hood is also excited about the key players returning to the field this year. “We have two returning starters on our line backing core and we have some freshman we are pulling in to teach them to create a new legacy with them,” Hood said. “Our safeties are looking really good this year and we are all working hard.”
The players all said that they are definitely ready to get out on the gridiron and win. “We lost some important players last year, but I think we have come back hungrier and we are ready to win which I think compensates for our size,” wide receiver and safety Griffin King said. “I’m just ready to play. The team has got a lot of energy and it’s fun to be out here.”
Schoenberger, the team’s starting QB, is also happy with the way the team has been playing. “I think our biggest strength is definitely that we play as a family,” the quarterback said. “There is no selfish play. We all just love each other to where we are just going to do what we need to do.”
Most of the players said that they need to stay focused this year, and not let adversity of the game get to them. They also said that they need to make sure they stay together as a team during the games.
As for big games coming up, the team wishes to get revenge on division teams like Alamosa, La Junta, and Salida. The boys are also looking forward to playing against their rivals, the Manitou Mustangs which takes place during homecoming week this year.
The team plays two away games in a row, one against Salida this Friday and then they challenge Colorado Springs Christian School a week from Saturday.