Panthers look to younger stars to shine as new football season approaches

Steven Bortstein
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — There's no downtime for the Piedra Vista football program entering the 2021 season.

Head coach Jared Howell understands full well the implications of opening the season at home against two-time 5A state runner-up Los Lunas on Saturday, Aug. 20 and what it will show him about the Panthers team this season.

Greg Henington, the new head coach of the Los Lunas Tigers, replacing Jeremy Maupin, is expected to have a solid squad for the road trip to face the Panthers.

"They have a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator, but they've always got real good kids," Howell said about the opening night matchup. "And they're used to winning so it will show us a lot about where we're at right away."

This upcoming season will also be a chance for Howell and the Panthers to regain some of the momentum of a shortened spring season which ended with a 30-28 win on the road over Capital.

"I think the word is resiliency, and it was a tough road for everyone," Howell said in describing what the abbreviated season was like for himself and the team. "The rollercoaster of not knowing if we were playing, the masks, the uncertainty was tough on all of us."

Howell said the constantly changing parameters and guidelines regarding coronavirus protocols was especially hardest on his seniors on the team.

"They just didn't believe it was going to happen, so they'd all but given up," Howell said. "It was tough to keep all of them in the fray."

That constant shuffling of players made it difficult for Howell and his coaching staff to keep a balance on the team, despite a 3-2 record and a bowl game victory.

"I think it wore on the coaches and the kids more than anything, but we made the best of it and had a bunch of young kids go into that Capital game and come away with a win and a positive ending."

Howell is hoping that positivity will continue despite the struggles of a quick turnaround and the still uncertain nature of how the team will come together this season with coronavirus protocols and mask requirements being enforced on the high school campus. 

"It feels like the same thing is looming over our heads," Howell said. "Being unmasked outside and masked up inside is a reminder that we're waiting for the hammer to drop again because it's been dropped on us several times already."

The Panthers will be returning some key players this season, and will be looking forward to solid productivity from those who got thrown into games last season as sophomores, including Jacob Ramsted, who helped lift the Panthers to the season-ending victory last April with a pair of rushing touchdowns.

"We've got some good speed and the experience of being there last season definitely helped," Howell said. "We've also got some question marks because they are so young, but they had success and showed composure in that position last year so we're hoping that continues."

Piedra Vista's Michael Candelaria fights for extra yards against Aztec's Austin Schaub (4) on Saturday, March 20, 2021, at Hutchison Stadium in Farmington.

Howell was noncommittal about who would be starting at quarterback this season for the Panthers, opting to let that situation play out in the final days of practice. Howell also suggested there are a number of starting roster spots that had yet to be determined.

"There's a lot of kids fighting for positions at different places, and where we haven't settled on a true starter yet," Howell said.

The Panthers will be also be competing with Farmington High not only as a crosstown rival, but also for supremacy in District 1-5A. The Scorpions are coming off an unbeaten 5-0 season last spring and are considered the favorites to repeat that role this season.

"They had a very talented team last season, and they've brought in some skill kids who probably make them the team to beat again this season," Howell said. 

Howell makes sure to tell his players that while the uncertainty still looms from last season and with the return of masks in classrooms that it's best to learn what you can and cannot control.

"The mask mandates are something that we can't control directly, it's being passed down to us, so we can't dump onto that," Howell said. "It's a lot like anything in athletics where you're competitive. We just do what we're supposed to be doing so we can play and compete when we can."

Piedra Vista 2021 Football Schedule

(All games on Friday)

Aug. 20 — Los Lunas at Piedra Vista

Aug. 27 — Piedra Vista at Valley

Sept. 3 — Atrisco Heritage at Piedra Vista

Sept. 10 — Kirtland Central at Piedra Vista

Sept. 17 — Piedra Vista at Belen

Sept. 24 — Piedra Vista at Durango

Oct. 1 — Piedra Vista at Miyamura

Oct. 8 — Piedra Vista at Capital

Oct. 15 — Los Alamos at Piedra Vista

Oct. 29 — Farmington at Piedra Vista 

Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680