But then the Panthers hit a brick wall as they faced their other league opponents. They narrowly lost to Freedom by a touchdown, but then got pummeled by Heritage and failed to put any points on the board against Deer Valley and Pittsburg.
“We had some academic problems and some injuries late in the season,” said Antioch Head Coach Randy Autentico. “I think they affected us. Also we had the tough part of our schedule was the league (games). Because this league is really tough. Four of the six teams in the league were playoff teams. Each year it’s going to be a dogfight. Every game is like really tough.”
Three all-league players – running back Rasjeon Hines, lineman Steven Hill and linebacker Marcel Warren – have graduated. But fortunately, many veterans will be returning, providing hope for bigger and better things in the coming season.
“This year we feel like we have some returning lettermen and are hoping to improve on our record,” said Autentico. “If we play well, we hope that we can be a playoff team. But it remains to be seen. It all depends on our senior leadership. That’s our big question mark. If our seniors will come through and they will lead, set examples to the younger players, I think there’s the possibility that we could have a pretty good season.”
The players he’ll be counting on include tackle Steven Johnson, center Fernie Melgoza, tight end Nick Lucero, wide receiver and defensive back Greg Arroyos, outside linebacker Jon Myers, defensive lineman Nikk Novero, defensive lineman Matt Fuller, running back Richie Bronaugh, running back Jamar Lea, defensive back and wide receiver Shamawn Wright, and guard Jerred Newberry – the nephew of former Panther and recently retired NFL center Jeremy Newberry, who is coaching the offensive line (see the story on page 1B).
“These are some of the players that we are looking forward to having a good year for us and helping us have a good season,” said Autentico. “We will be pretty experienced offensively. Defensively we will have some young kids who will come up and have to fill it for us. The kids are enthusiastic and work hard. We just feel if we can stay away from academic problems and injuries, we will improve and be competitive this year.”
Also returning at quarterback is Jordan Hoyle, who passed for 124 yards per game in his first year at the helm. “We are looking for good things from him this year in the way of leadership and performance,” the coach said. “He’s a really good athlete and we are hoping that he can help lead this offense.”
Autentico was asked about his team’s strengths and weaknesses.
“I feel like we should be pretty solid offensively,” he said. “Probably our inexperience and some of our new players that are coming up, that will be one of the things that we have to be concerned about. So they are going to have to grow up real quick. They have to get experienced and become veterans real fast.”
While the players and head coach get all the attention, Autentico shares the credit with his staff: defensive coordinator John Lucido, defensive back coach Wilson Pica, defensive line coach Mike Butterfield, wide receiver and special teams coach Lee Thull, John O’Connor, who helps with the offensive line, assisting Jeremy Newberry.
It’s been a tough stretch for the Panther faithful, who have enjoyed only one winning season in the last five years (a 6-4 record in 2006). But this year could be the turnaround.
“We are looking forward to having a good season. We would like bring back that competitive, winning football to Antioch High School,” said Autentico. “We are looking forward to this season and trying to improve each year. Last year we thought we had a fairly good season. This year we are trying to increase the number of wins and also to improve the program.”