Experienced Panthers have high hopes ahead of season opener

Photos by Ray Hamill/ – Tyler Marsh in action for the Panthers last season.

By Ray Hamill — After an opening weekend bye, the McKinleyville Panthers will kick off their season when they host Anderson on Friday night.

And with a core group of experienced seniors leading the way, second-year head coach Fel Barlow  will be hoping his team can start fast and maintain their challenge all season.

“They’re looking good,” said Barlow, who only lost three starters from last year. “I’m enjoying what I’m seeing. We’ve got 15 seniors who all played youth football and my starting line are all seniors.”

The Panthers started strong under Barlow last year and won four of their opening five games.

With injuries mounting, however, they were unable to maintain that form and would lose five of their final six games, although they did make a return to the playoffs for the first time in several years.

Barlow doesn’t have a ton of depth this fall and avoiding a lot of injuries will be crucial to the team’s success, especially with such a tough schedule.

After facing off against Anderson, their pre-league schedule includes a trip to Willits and very tough matchups against University and Del Norte, each of whom looked very good in their openers this past weekend.

Barlow and the Panthers, however, are embracing the challenge and the head coach is hoping to take advantage of an athletic squad.

“We’ve got a bunch of kids that can move around, and that will help us,” he said. “It will make our defense a lot faster.”

Big things are expected out of senior quarterback Jack Clancy, who has looked sharp in the preseason, as well as senior running back/linebacker John Randall and senior receiver/linebacker Mettah Kuska. All three are co-captains.

Jack Clancy

Big things are also expected out of junior running back/defensive back Tyler Marsh, who had a breakout season last fall.

The addition of senior receiver/cornerback Peyton Harbin, who transferred from Eureka, will give Clancy an another experienced weapon to throw to, while junior running back/cornerback Tenoch Tapia is also expected to feature heavily.

A senior-heavy line, meanwhile, is expected to provide a solid foundation for the team, including Derek Ray, who also is a team captain.

Ray will line up alongside fellow seniors Jack Saso, Kamron Harmon, Dimitri Harris, Kyler Tiller and Shawn Beasley.

“I like their mentality this year,” the head coach said of his players. “There’s not a lot of complainers.”

The coach also believes his players are starting to understand their roles better and buying into what they’re doing as a team.

The Anderson Cubs dropped their season opener over the weekend, falling 52-14 to Colusa.

Friday’s varsity game is set for 7:30 p.m.

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