Panthers football looking to take step forward
Football season is fast approaching which means Middle Park High School is looking to build off it’s middling success from last season, and hopefully surprise the league with a trip to the playoffs.
The Panthers finished last year with a 4-5 record, what Head Coach Brandon Wilkes called one of their best season in the last five years.
“We left with a lot of hope for the future because we played some good football at times,” said Wilkes. “We also showed our youth at times as well, and that we need to bridge the gap of being physical enough to compete in the league we’re in.”
The team lost seven seniors over the offseason. Perhaps the biggest loss is Mitch Gardner, who led the team in receiving last year with 236 yards and two touchdowns, and was fourth on the team in total yards.
But there is reason for optimism. The Panthers are returning a majority of their impact players to the starting lineup. Wilkes highlighted senior Running back and defensive back Blake Weimer and senior offensive lineman and linebacker Will DeLay as keys to success this year.
Last season Weimer rushed for 850 yards on 165 carries, and adding another 191 yards receiving en route to an all-conference nod. He was the only player on the team to exceed even 600 all purpose yards, blowing the mark away with nearly 1,400 yards on the year.
Weimer was also a star in the defensive backfield, recording a team leading six interceptions to go along with 36 tackles.
DeLay returns as a two-year captain to hopefully make his presence on the defensive side of the ball one gain this year. His 49 tackles were second on the team to Ricky Mills, who is no longer with the team.
“These two are a great place to start,” said Wilkes.
Perhaps the most interesting story to come out of camp is the ensuing quarterback battle between seniors Sam Colley and Boston Gleich.
Coming into the offseason the job was presumed to be Colley’s after he started the entire 2016 season, earning second team all conference honors and compiling 646 passing yards and throwing for seven scores. Colley was especially affective on the ground, taking off from the pocket over 100 times for 520 yards and another eight scores.
Despite a reasonable level of success, Colley sometimes struggled throwing the ball. He only had a .357 completion percentage in 112 attempts last year, and his 7:11 touchdown to interception ratio leaves a lot to be desired.
Gleich got extremely limited work behind center last season, attempting just five passes for 23 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.
But Wilkes said Gleich has been taking reps with the first team offense during training camp and that he has closed the gap considerably on Colley.
“They’re both great quarterbacks who are really pushing each other to get better,” said Wilkes. “Colley was second team all conference last year, and Gleich has been running the first team right now. Either one of them is going to be good for us, which is important because you can only go as far as your quarterback can take you.”
Wilkes said the team’s biggest asset is the core of experienced players at the skill positions and in the trenches on the offensive and defensive lines. His biggest concerns were depth, and a culture of losing.
Because of Middle Park’s size, and the broad number of athletics they offer, the Panthers usually end up with one of the smaller rosters in the Flatirons League. This year they will roster just under 40 players.
“It’s tough because if you have a couple of key guys go down then all of a sudden you have to ask a freshman or sophomore to step in against another team’s juniors and seniors,” Wilkes said.
He also said that one of the biggest hurdles he will face is getting his team to believe they have what it takes to be a playoff team. After years of bad football, he wants to establish a new culture of confidence and winning.
“I do think we need to overcome the current culture,” he said. “It’s been a while since we’ve been in the playoffs, so I’m just getting over the hump of believing that this could be the team that accomplishes that.”
Coach Wilkes believes this team has what it takes to make a serious run at the playoffs, but that journey will have to start away from home as the Panther’s kick off the season with three road contests against Aspen High School, Estes park High School and The Academy.
Middle Park faced the same three teams to begin last season crushing Aspen and Estes Park before a brutal 42-7 loss to The Academy. Wilkes expects to compete with the leagues best this season.
“Last year we beat the teams we were supposed to, and we were competitive with the second tier,” he said. “Our goal is to start beating the top tier teams in our league, and I think it’s the right schedule for us.”
The season begins August 25, and the Panther’s first home game will be September 22, against the University Bulldogs.
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