The Panthers lost several valuable players from their 9-3 campaign in 2012 that ended with a state quarterfinal loss. A retooled offensive line will lead the way as seniors Isaiah Valdez and Beau Clafton try to lead PV back to the state playoffs.
"We have a good nucleus of guys coming back who have had a lot of playing time," said PV head coach Jared Howell. "I am impressed, as everybody is, by Beau Clafton. Isaiah Valdez has adjusted real well to the changes around him at quarterback, and he has had to become a more vocal leader."
Clafton emerged during the 2012 season as a dynamic threat, taking sweep tosses and running routes as a wide receiver. Along with Aztec running back Ryanel Lewis-Adams, Clafton will be one of the most dynamic players in District 1-4A.
"Ryneal is a great football and track athlete. He and Clafton are kind of the same kids," Howell said. "They are very explosive. Beau was fourth in the 100-yard dash last year on a pulled hamstring running 80 percent. He was our district champ in the 100. When he gets daylight, nobody is catching him unless they have some kind of great angle on him."
Clafton is only asking his offensive line for four seconds of solid blocking, and he plans on being in the open field.
"I am extremely confident with the new line coming up. They have shown me that I can count on them. I am extremely impressed," Clafton said. "Last year, we started to build a winning program, and now we can see that with the guys coming up. All of the guys are motivated and everyone is working hard."
Howell is also confident emerging stars are among the ranks of the PV team.
"Storm Avendano is a kid who is going to make his mark. Grayson Tracy at cornerback on defense will, too," Howell said. "Nick Varley is another guy who will be on both sides making an impact. We already have a good fullback with Ryan Rino, but Varley can run it a bit there as well."
Valdez is going from having an explosive group of wide receivers to smaller guys who have good hands, Howell said.
"Us seniors have to teach up the young kids and prepare them for what the state playoffs are like now that we have experienced it," Valdez said. "We have a bunch of guys who are going to step up for the guys we lost like Bryson Martinez and Wyatt Hardy. But other seniors like Storm, Philiciano (Castiana) and Dylan (Puhuyaoma), they can all step up.
Clafton, Howell and Valdez all pointed to the team's work ethic when asked why they believe the Panthers will win the District 1-4A title.
"We are not necessarily the most talented, but we have great guys out here, and we are coming at it with a lot of intensity and playing harder than we normally have," Clafton said.
Howell said offseasons are getting shorter in high school football, and he believes PV has put in the work to reach that stage again since falling in last year's state quarterfinals.
"We have got it done in athletic hour getting in the weight room and putting in the work. That is what you have to do these days," he said. "When I grew up, there was an offseason. There is not much of that anymore. There is a change of seasons, but the big factor is getting bigger and stronger in the weight room out of season now."