2015 Football Preview: Panthers aim to take giant leap
By Travis Lisle
After a 1-9 season, it would be nice to say the Paradise Panthers are returning all of their starters with a season of experience, but that isn’t the case.
Losing running backs Austin Hogan, Chris Hill and quarterback Cash Preather, the Panthers are considerably green at key skill positions.
“We lost our skill guys,” coach Scott Broussard said. “You’re talking about three key skill guys right there.”
With that said, Broussard has faith in younger players to step up now that their opportunity has arrived.
Darian Sotomi returns after leading the team in receiving, and he will transition to more of a backfield role.
Kash Helton and Bradley Young will also hold a lot of value for the Panthers’ “Wing T” offense that puts such an emphasis on running the ball.
The Panthers would also like to throw the ball more often, something they didn’t have much success with last season.
Broussard will be taking over the defense and he wants his 4-2-5 scheme to be a net that doesn’t allow big plays.
“We’re excited about the kids, and we’re trying to keep it simple for them,” Broussard said. “We should have a lot of kids flying around with a lot of quickness.”
Last year, most teams sped past the Panthers. The team finished with a single win.
That came as a 42-14 victory over a depleted Jacksboro team that also struggled.
Paradise averaged just 15.1 points per game in 2014 and allowed opponents 29.5 points.
The Panthers were shut out by both Breckenridge and Bowie, and lost four one-possession games to Henrietta, Krum, Ponder and Boyd.
A few moves in the right direction and the team could be a lot closer to a winning season.
Two of the real positives for the Panthers are their offensive and defensive lines.
“We’re losing some guys off of the offensive and defensive line, but we’re pretty deep there already,” Broussard said. “We’re losing two seniors, but we had quite a few juniors last year that can fill the role.”
Paradise’s opponents are the same as last season, beginning with a home game against Live Red Oak, followed by a road game at Henrietta.
Home games against Jacksboro and Alvord bracket a road game in Krum, completing the pre-district schedule.
The Sept. 25 game against Alvord will be the Panthers’ homecoming.
Paradise’s first 4-3A action will be at Ponder, followed by another road game at Breckenridge.
The Panthers’ first home district game will be against rival Boyd on Friday, Oct. 23.
A road game against Brock and a home game against Bowie will close out the Paradise regular season.
Panthers revamp offense
Coming off a one-win season in which the offense averaged just 15.1 points per game, the Panthers have spent the offseason trying to improve.
Though Paradise doesn’t run a “quick-scoring” offense like many of the spread systems that are currently in vogue, the Panthers hope to add more passing to keep defenses guessing.
“One thing we worked on really hard is throwing the football a little bit,” coach Scott Broussard said. “We ran the ball really well, but it was tough once defenses found out we couldn’t throw out of it.”
Cameron Chasteen, Tucker Edwards and Ty Valentine create a healthy competition for the Panthers’ quarterback job.
According to their coach, the two players who don’t win the starting job will find a valuable place elsewhere on the offense.
Quarterback isn’t the only position that Paradise will need filled.
The loss of Austin Hogan and Chris Hill leaves a considerable void at the running back positions that are crucial in getting the “Wing-T” system off the ground.
To fill those roles, last season’s leading receiver, Darian Sotomi, will spend more time in the backfield alongside Kash Helton and Bradley Young.
Offensively, Broussard feels most comfortable with the line.
“I’m expecting big things out of guys like Tanner Edwards, who started on our offensive line last year,” he said. “Kaleb Conner is another guy who should contribute a good deal to our offensive and defensive lines. Both of those guys will play on both lines.”
The Panthers’ other strength is the intangible sense of togetherness that Broussard said is noticeable in workouts.
“The biggest strength I see right now is camaraderie and work ethic,” he said. “They’re one of the closest-knit group of guys I’ve seen. They push each other and they’re not afraid of hard work. I think that will go a long way to help us this year. They have very positive attitudes.”
Meanwhile, Broussard believes the biggest knock on the 2015 team is something that can be overcome.
“Our size will be a challenge again,” he said. “We’re not very big with our skill kids. Again, I feel like what we lack in size we make up for in strength, heart and desire.”
Panthers change schemes
The Paradise defense allowed 29.5 points per game last season and lost defensive coordinator Steven Grisby who accepted a head coaching job in Roby.
Head coach Scott Broussard has taken over the defense, and he wants to incorporate different personnel groupings to the base 4-2-5 scheme.
“We’ll play some games where we look like a ‘Split-6′ and drop into a 3-4,” Broussard said. “One of our biggest things is not giving up big plays. We’d love the three-and-outs, but not giving up the big score is a priority.
“We just want to get the football back into the hands of our offense.”
The Panthers have some experience on the defensive side at all three levels.
Defensive end Seth Grammer was a second-team all-district selection last year, as was linebacker Hunter Anthony. Grammar had four sacks with his 56 tackles. Anthony added 73 tackles and a fumble recovery.
Darian Sotomi will headline a secondary that hopes to force a lot of turnovers against pass-heavy teams. Sotomi was an all-district and All-Wise selection last year and picked off a pair of passes.
“We’ve got several people like Ty Valentine. He’s very smart and hard-nosed. He doesn’t mind coming up and hitting you,” Broussard added. “Derek Conner will play a big role as a lineman on both sides of the ball. I feel like we’ve got guys coming back from last year that can really contribute.”
Of all three position groups, Broussard expects the line to lead the defense, making things easier for the linebackers and secondary.
One thing stacked against Paradise is the level of competition. Broussard knows his defense will have to prepare every week for a strong opponent.
There are no flies on the Paradise schedule.
“Life Red Oak is a good team,” Broussard said. “Henrietta’s always tough. Coach [Brian] Hodnett does a great job with Jacksboro and they’ll be better.
Krum went two rounds in the 4A playoffs last year. Coach [Pete] Hart always does a good job with Alvord and we struggled with them last year.”
He said that Ponder has been playing good football, and Breckenridge, Brock, Boyd and Bowie are always good.
Speaking from experience, Broussard cautioned, “We’ll have to be consistent and play well each week.”