By Ray Hamill — The McKinleyville Panthers will get a chance to see where they’re at this weekend, when they scrimmage St. Bernard’s one week before kicking off the new season at South Fork.
Head coach Keoki Burbank will field varsity and JV teams this year, with between 18 and 22 players on the former.
“We’re actually a little better than I thought,” Burbank said of the numbers.
The team began practice last week in preparation for a five-week season, which will run from March 19 through April 17.
And Burbank says coaches and players are glad to be back and have the opportunity to play a season.
“It’s really nice practicing and just being out there,” he said. “I didn’t realize how much I needed it personally. We have people who are really excited to be back.”
The Panthers will feature a young team, with just two returning seniors, Jayden Scher (RB/LB) and Howard Henderson (OL/DL).
“They’re stepping up,” Burbank said of the experienced duo. “They’re leaders and they’re working really hard at practice.”
Sophomore Jack Clancy will play at quarterback, and has shown some early promise despite not playing the position for a few years.
He is, however, expected to go through some growing pains along the way.
Junior Connor Berg will see the bulk of carries at running back and has impressed his coaches with a good preseason so far, while fellow junior Connor Alto is expected to play a big role on defense at linebacker.
“What I like is their youth,” Burbank said of his team. “With only two seniors we’re a young team, but you can see the potential they have. And I really like that they’re excited to play.”
The Panthers’ coaching staff sees a couple of changes this season, with Deunn Willis taking over as defensive coordinator, and Fel Barlow the offensive coordinator.
Nick Jonte will coach the offensive line, Duane Ezedi the receivers, Justin Hornsby the defensive line, Darrel Grimes the linebackers and Rudy Garcia the JVs.
Also joining the staff this year is former Panthers running back Caleb Martinez, who will coach a little bit of everything.
“He’s a good football coach,” Burbank said of Martinez, who played with many of the current players but has quickly adapted to the role of coach. “He’s teaching and coaching and getting right in there.”
Saturday’s scrimmage is set for 2 p.m.
McKinleyville at South Fork, 7:30 p.m.
McKinleyville at Fortuna B, 7:30 p.m.
Ferndale at McKinleyville, 7:30 p.m.
Fortuna at McKinleyville, 7:30 p.m.
Arcata at McKinleyville, 7:30 p.m.