Panthers prep for fall football
The 2016 Middle Park High School (MPHS) football season kicks off next Friday as the panther men square up against Aspen for an early season showdown a week ahead of the Labor Day weekend.
It is an exciting year for the Middle Park football team after coming off their best season in several years. The panthers are already hard at work, practicing during the evenings at MPHS in Granby with their new head coach, and new Athletic Director for East Grand School District, Brandon Wilkes.
Wilkes is excited about the coming season and the potential the panther men are showing as they prepare for upcoming games. “I think this is shaping up to be a good year,” Wilkes said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that have contributed in the past. We have a good number out there, close to 35 guys. We have an experienced offensive line with some good size and some good skill players too with speed and size. This is not a rebuilding year. This is a year we have been gearing up for.”
When the panthers take the field next Friday they will be led by a group of nine senior boys. Those seniors will act as student mentors for the younger players, including nine freshmen that have joined the team. The team has held official practices all this week with the first day of practice held on August 15. Like those who have played before them, the young men of Middle Park are getting into shape for the season with a weeklong training camp consisting of two-a-day practices.
“Most teams don’t play until Labor Day Weekend,” Coach Wilkes said. “So we are trying to fit more into a shorter period of time.”
The game against Aspen on August 26 will be held here in Granby. It will be the first of three straight home games the panthers will play. After Aspen the row the panthers must hoe gets no easier as Middle Park looks towards game two against their regional rivals the Estes Park Bobcats. A game that will determine who controls the Trail Ridge Road Trophy for the coming year.
Game three for the panthers will also be held in Granby and features Middle Park up against the Academy Wildcats out of Westminster. Those games are just the first in a total of nine regular season games the panthers will play in 2016. Coach Wilkes is cautiously eyeing a few other teams this season like the D’Evelyn Jaguars, who are dropping down from 3A to 2A classification; and the always-challenging Faith Christian Eagles. But for right now Wilkes is just focused on August 26.
“I think the most challenging game is always the next one,” said Wilkes. “The Aspen game will be a tough game. Both teams are coming in with one less week of prep; so the one game I am worried about is the next one.”
As the young men on the football team prepare to take the gridiron they will be working under the tutelage of a new coach with his own unique outlook on how the game can, and should, be played. “I took over (football coaching duties) for a guy in Lyons (Colorado). His term was ‘old school tough’. We are ‘new school swagger’. We are going to be cutting edge.”
When looking at the panther’s roster for the year Wilkes noted advantages and challenges, starting with himself. “Coming together as a team under new leadership is always a challenge,” Wilkes said. “Learning a new system is a challenge… The level of knowledge our coaching staff will bring is an advantage. This is probably one of the best sets of assistant coaches I have had in my career. We are really well coached in all facets of the game.”
Wilkes said he believes the panther’s linemen will be among their greatest strengths this year and is happy about the level of experience key varsity players have in high stakes games from previous years.
“We are coming off a much improved season after a couple single win seasons. We are ready to take the next step,” he said. “I think we will be an up tempo team, an aggressive team.”
Wilkes’ said locals should expect a panther football team that is very fun to watch this year, and one that represents the community well. “The community will be very proud of the way they (student athletes) behave on the field and carry themselves. I think we could have a really special season if everyone comes together and believes in what we are trying to teach them.”
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