High School Football

Panthers moving forward after unfortunate end to ’20

By Dennis Silva II, Sports Editor
Posted 5/19/21

After almost any season, a team knows where it stood that year. Playoffs or no playoffs. Good start, bad finish; Bad start, good finish. Injuries or no injuries. There is nowhere to hide.

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High School Football

Panthers moving forward after unfortunate end to ’20

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After almost any season, a team knows where it stood that year. Playoffs or no playoffs. Good start, bad finish; Bad start, good finish. Injuries or no injuries. There is nowhere to hide.

As legendary NFL coach Bill Parcells is renown for saying, you are what your record says you are.

But the 2020 Paetow football team is a rare exception. Paetow had its outstanding season canceled abruptly when the program was forced to shut down because of an abundance of COVID-19 cases in the second week of the postseason.

A week earlier, the Panthers defeated Baytown Lee handily, 70-18, for their first ever playoff win in just their third season of varsity play.

And then … curtains.

“It was really upsetting to know our season got cut short due to something out of our control, but it really set a fire under us,” incoming senior quarterback C.J. Dumas said. “We sat in quarantine for two weeks talking about how we were going to come back and show what we were capable of. Last year, we know we had a chance to make a run. This year, we prove it to everybody.”

The Panthers graduated only 33 seniors from that 9-1 team. Many players return. And five months later, following the conclusion of the spring ball season with the Blue-Black game on Tuesday, May 18, none have forgotten that disappointed feeling.

“We have a big chip on our shoulder from last year,” incoming senior defensive back Kentrell Webb said. “That was big. We have a lot of guys returning from last year, so, hey, same thing. Let’s get back out there, build these younger guys up and let’s get going again.”

Coach BJ Gotte is hoping his players learned from last season. He did. For instance, Gotte has a better read on the significance of the spring season.

Despite last year’s spring season being canceled because of the pandemic, Paetow still produced a wildly successful year, posting a program-best number in total wins and getting to the area playoffs for the first time. If Gotte reconsidered the influence of spring football—teams can opt for a spring season or an extra week of fall preseason in August—it would have been understood.

Instead, Gotte wonders how much better last year’s team could have been at the start of the season had it had spring ball. And he embraced this year’s spring season for the maturity and improvement players showed.

“Not having spring football was something that happened in the past, and we learned that we’ve got to go to work. We’re missing time,” Gotte said. “Our kids put in the work and we had success last year. Now getting to do spring ball has really helped us and hopefully it’ll pay off.”

Gotte said the impact of spring football is immeasurable.

“Their overall understanding of the game, being able to go out and get reps and improve as players is one thing,” he said. “Leadership, we grew … it’s just something about going out and playing football in the spring that helps evolve leaders, especially senior leaders. We had some guys step up and lead in some key moments, and that’s one of the key components of spring. Putting our guys in situations to where they grow as a team related to football. You can lift weights and do all the skill work you want. But when you put the pads on and get in the huddle, and you’re competing with those 10 other guys with you, that’s when you find out who your leaders are.”

The primary leaders are the newly-named team captains for the 2021 season. They are incoming senior offensive lineman James Bailey, incoming junior linebacker Alex Kilgore, Dumas and Webb.

Off the field, the Panthers are coming along as well as can be expected. On it, they remain a work in progress, but Gotte was able to answer some questions he had.

Offensively, Gotte was impressed with the spring performances of linemen Jeremiah Richard, Anthony Dorantes and Isaiah Villanueva. Josh Prado, a backup fullback last year, has shown promise at tight end as well this year.

Schematically, the Panthers ran more shotgun formation this spring due to the wealth of skill they have at receiver in Kole Wilson, Dez Myers, Tyler Collinsworth, Brandon Shanks and Price Johnson, a move-in from Louisiana.

“We have the most depth at receiver that we’ve ever had,” Dumas said. “We’re giving more people a chance to show what they can do. Of course, we’ll stay true to who we are under center, but we’ll definitely change some things up to give our guys more room in space.”

Defensively, many players emerged as potential key contributors. They include incoming sophomore lineman Loghan Thomas, linebacker Luke Fitch and defensive back Christian Hurd.

“I like how we’ve been way more aggressive,” Webb said. “Tackling, hitting … that’s the name of the game. I feel like we did that very well this spring and some of our younger guys have stepped up big.”

In all, it’s enough for the Panthers to move forward from the misfortune of last season’s ending and reset the course.

“Control the controllable, right? We really focus and talk to our kids about trying to get better every single day,” Gotte said. “We reference the goals we’re obtaining, and we learn from the past. But our focus is on the present. We don’t focus on the future. We don’t focus on the past.”

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