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COUNTDOWN TO KICKOFF 2019: Fort Stockton Panthers - Odessa American: Football

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Posted: Wednesday, August 21, 2019 11:45 pm

FORT STOCKTON After reaching the playoffs last year, the Fort Stockton Panthers hope to not only return to the postseason, but extend their stay.

Last year, the Panthers managed an 8-3 overall record that included a 4-2 showing in District 1-4A Division II, but saw their season come to an end against Lubbock Estacado in the bi-district round.

Head coach Mike Peters and his players, however, are excited to return to action … and the postseason.

“I’m really excited going into this season,” Peters said. “We have a lot of guys coming back. We’ve got some kids with good experience who played in a lot of games last year and won a few ball games. I ‘m excited about getting them back this year.”

The Panthers have 16 starters returning, eight on each side of the line of scrimmage.

“I think experience is one of our strengths,” Peters said. “Most of our guys are going to be experienced guys with two or three years with experience.

“I think the offseason was tremendous for them. Those things will be key for us this year.”

Figuring out how to finish some games might be one of the team’s few weaknesses. 

“I still think that learning how to finish games and learning how to get over that hump is what we still need to work on,” Peters said. “I think those things will come with time.

“This group has done some great things but they haven’t done everything they’ve set out to accomplish just yet.”

But despite the number of players coming back, the Panthers must first find a replacement for quarterback Nick Johnson, who graduated in the spring.

“Offensively, we’ll have a lot of returning players,” Peters said. “We lost a good quarterback last year in Nick Johnson.

“We have a lot of kids fighting for that spot. Those kids are going to be high quality players so I think our offense is in good hands.”

On the defensive side, the Panthers must find a replacement for Cole Daggett, the District MVP of District 1-4A from last year who finished with a team-high 238 tackles and three interceptions who also had two sacks and six tackles for loss.

“We lost a huge impact player in Cole Daggett but the young men who played alongside him last year have grown,” Peters said. “We have a few kids steeping up from Junior varsity so I think we’ll be pretty solid on defense again this year.”

Among the players returning for the Panthers are senior offensive linemen Donnie DeLaCruz and Josh Hernandez and senior wide receiver Uber Granado. 

“We’re really excited for this season,” DeLaCruz said. “It gives us something to work for and we’re eager to get ready.

“We’ve been working hard on and off since Day One. Most of us have gone through offseason workouts for the last four years and we’re ready to make an impact. We hope to win a playoff game.”

Hernandez is hopeful that his team can return to the state playoffs.

“It’s exciting because we came of a good year,” Hernandez said. “First off, it’s exciting because it’s my senior year and I’m ready to go out and get some wins. The goal is to win district and win a playoff game.”

Last year, the Panthers finished third in the district standings behind Greenwood and Snyder.

“It’s the same every week,” Peters said. “It’ll always be a dog fight in this district. We have some good teams.

“These teams out here, we’ve been playing them every since they started having football. There’s no easy games in our district and everybody can beat you if you don’t bring your A-game.”

Peters has liked what he’s seen from his players these past few weeks since practice started.

“It’s great,” Peters said. “You build all summer and you get so close t it. You have some worries about how you think it’ll go but once you get out there, everything goes well. We have all our kids out and we have great numbers this year. All of that’s been good.”

He’s hopeful that his team can use the success from last year as a building block for this year.

“I think that’s a big factor,” Peters said. “I think that’s what every program should strive for. You want to establish a little bit of success and get it rolling. Those clubs that are good, year in and year out, there’s a reason for that. Clubs like us we’ve gotten a taste of that and got to keep that rolling every year so that we have something to build for the future.”

>> Follow Michael Bauer on Twitter at @OAMichaelba

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