Football 2015 preview: Armed with experience, PV looks toward the future
PV finished the 2014 season with a 7-5 record and went 2-2 in district play to earn the No. 9 seed in the 5A playoffs. The Panthers knocked off No. 8 Valencia 44-21 before losing to the eventual champion Artesia in the quarterfinals.
"That's an invaluable experience," PV head coach Jared Howell said of the Artesia game. "No matter how much you prepare, you don't know how you're going to play until you go there and do it. That's an experience that was really big for our program, so next time around, we know what to expect."
PV grew not only mentally, but also physically, over the last year. After an offseason in the weight room, the Panthers are prepared for the game's physicality.
"Literally and figuratively, they've grown. Physically, we're just bigger human beings than we were last year with all those returning kids," Howell said. "We're out of large helmets and have a lot of medium helmets, whereas last year it was the opposite."
This season, the Panthers will field a team that's deep at the skill positions, including the running back duo of senior Scott Ramirez and junior Elijah Gamboa, who complemented each other last year with an inside-out running game.
"On both sides, I think we have pretty good team speed. We've lost some kids to injury, but we still have a bunch of good kids to fill in," Howell said. "We have inexperience on the line, and our strength is in the skill groups. Defensively, it's probably the same."
With a young and inexperienced defensive line, the Panthers will rely heavily on their linebackers and secondary. And senior linebacker Shawn Morris said he has confidence in that.
"Things have been going great," Morris said. "I think we're going to have a great linebacking corps this year, and we have a lot of skill players who are fast and physical."
Before they try to add the District 1-5A title to their trophy case, the Panthers will get a chance in the first two weeks of the season to avenge two of last season's losses when they host San Juan High, of Blanding, Utah, and Goddard.
PV fell to San Juan 35-8 in the season opener last year and then lost to Goddard 47-0 the next week.
But this version of the Panthers is different than the team that suffered those two losses last season. Morris said the team has come together and has a better chemistry as the 2015 season approaches.
"I think this team is more of a team. We've bonded well, and we're just more of a team," Morris said.
Morris added that while it would be great to end his high school career with a district title and a deep run in the state playoffs, the coaching staff has been preaching one game at a time.
And that's for a good reason.
"We've got the type of schedule that if you look ahead to anybody else, you're asking for trouble," Howell said. "Every day we're trying to be a little better than we were the day before."