After his team’s 3-7 inaugural year of varsity football last season, Paetow coach B.J. Gotte sought two things he felt his team desperately needed: toughness and explosiveness.
In a pair of quiet late winter transfers, senior Jonathan Jolly from Katy and junior Damon Bankston from Morton Ranch, the Panthers’ concerns were suddenly addressed.
In Paetow’s 48-7 win over Clements on Thursday evening at Legacy Stadium, Bankston rushed for 154 yards and three touchdowns on 10 carries and added 112 yards and another score on two catches, while Jolly compiled 87 yards and a score on 14 carries.
Their performances were not an anomaly. For the season, Jolly has 320 rushing yards and three touchdowns, averaging 7.6 yards per carry, while Bankston has 329 rushing yards and four touchdowns, with 9.9 yards per carry, to go with 183 receiving yards and two more touchdowns.
The result? Wins. Paetow is 3-0, equaling last season’s win total, heading into the start of District 10-5A, Division II, play in two weeks. And largely because of Jolly and Bankston, the Panthers have outscored opponents 147-14.
“We absolutely had to be more explosive as an offense,” Gotte said. “Jonathan brought a level of toughness we needed. He’s a hard-nosed kid, and our kids gravitate to him and look up to him. Damon is just so versatile, and we can put him in a lot of places to take advantage of things and win the one-on-ones and turn those five-yard plays into 60-yard plays.”
Last season, Paetow averaged 4.1 yards per carry. This season, the Panthers are averaging nine yards per rush.
“Me and Damon, we’re surprising people,” Jolly said.
Jolly starts the games. He’s the tone-setter with his downhill, physical style. His transition from Katy was seamless. The Panthers run the same I-formation offense, with different wrinkles here and there. Gotte was the Tigers’ offensive coordinator for five seasons prior to coming to Paetow.
“The mindset, the practices, the approach … it’s all the same,” Jolly said about his move from Katy to Paetow. “How we prepare, it’s not different. The offense is similar. It was easy to fit right in.”
After a few battering runs from Jolly, Paetow introduces Bankston to the mix, and he’s an entirely different talent. He is not as physical as Jolly, but more athletic and quicker. He’s also versatile enough to play receiver, as he showed on a dynamic 69-yard catch-and-run against Clements early in the fourth quarter.
Bankston’s transition, however, has not been as simple as Jolly’s. Morton Ranch ran a spread offense. Jolly operated in space as a running back. At Paetow, he is asked to make quick decisions, find the holes and learn his reads. It’s a more studious approach.
Bankston said it’s been an adjustment getting comfortable with the Panthers’ playcalling and schemes along the offensive line. But Paetow has provided the one thing he sought all along: opportunity.
“That’s why I came over here,” Bankston said. “I feel I could really use my talent. I’m using my speed more. I’m trusting blocks better. I’m being lined up in the slot more instead of just running back. It’s fun.”
While Jolly and Bankston are terrific individual players, the offensive line has been just as impressive. Jolly and Bankston had all the gaps and time they desired against Clements as the Panthers’ front of seniors Cameron Gross, Jose Coleman and John Bailey, and juniors Demetrius Elko and Sammy Almendares dominated the line of scrimmage.
“The O-line blocks so well,” Bankston said. “I just see a hole and I pop. They have a lot of heart and they work so hard.”
What Gotte wished for, he got. Jolly and Bankston add tremendous juice. The offensive line holds blocks. Sophomore quarterback Channing Dumas Jr.’s arm is able to exploit defenses when they load the box.
What Gotte saw during spring ball has showed itself when the lights turn on. And while an undefeated start and ungodly point differential is nice, the ultimate goal still remains.
“We’ve shocked a lot of people, I think,” Bankston said. “No one expected us to be this good. We did. I’d say we’re ahead of schedule.”