Antioch’s football team will look to undertake a significant task in 2017, replacing running back Najee Harris, now at Alabama as one of the NCAA top freshmen in the country.
But for coach John Lucido, the Panthers still have a great deal of talent.
“We have expanded the playbook, but we’re not going to do things too different,” Lucido said. “We lost Najee, but we still have a lot of talent, with most of our core group.”
Returning Players: The running game will be spearheaded by a pair of seniors. Dalaan Green, who was Antioch’s second leading rusher in 2016, and the Cal commit Omari Harris. Omari will also have a prominent role on the defense as a linebacker.
While the Panthers will remain a running team, the offense will be expanded slightly with returning junior quarterback Willem Karnthong. Karnthong started for Antioch as a sophomore and passed for over 2,300 yards.
“He can run, too,” Lucido said of his quarterback. Running is still the strength of our team, but you’ll see a good mixture. You’ll see more motion and movement. We’re excited. It’s been really good.”
Protecting Karnthong on the edge will be a pair of returning starters in senior tackle Garrett Robinson, and junior tackle Alberto Sandoval. When the Panthers go down field, junior receiver Gaudie Campbell and senior Isaiah Avery will be the primary playmakers.
Antioch has experience on the defensive side of the ball, as well. Junior Vinny Ballardo led the team in tackles as a sophomore, while senior Timmy Dorsey and his 4.5 sacks from 2016 return to the defensive line.
New players: A nucleus of young players will also be prominently featured for Antioch in 2017.
That includes senior safety Ti’yahti Harris, senior linebacker Tevin Holmes and senior lineman Josiah Simmons.
Junior linebacker Julian Rios will add youth to an experienced group of linebackers, and junior lineman Jake Hope will be integral in the team’s rushing and passing attacks.
Overview: There’sno doubt that Najee’s graduation leaves the Panthers with something of a question mark. But the cupboard is far from bare at Antioch.
The Panthers have made the NCS playoffs in all but two seasons since Lucido became the program’s head coach. They do enter 2017 having to replace a supreme talent, but also have proven players at key positions.
The Big Little Game against Pittsburg is certainly Antioch’s rivalry game. But a preseason game against Clayton Valley Charter will give an early indication as to the kind of team that the Panthers will have.
Over the last three seasons, the Eagles have gone 37-5 as a team that truly wears its opponents down. A strong showing against one of Northern California’s best programs in the penultimate preseason game would be a good indicator that Antioch is ready for the Bay Valley Athletic League slate.
Pittsburg is clearly the favorite in the BVAL and defending champions Freedom return a great deal of talent, as well. But it’s not unrealistic to think that Antioch will again make the playoffs and finish in the top half of the league’s standings.
Panthers 2017 SCHEDULE
August 25, 7:00 PM @ Lincoln (Stockton)
September 1, 7:00 PM vs. Soledad
September 8, 7:00 PM @ San Leandro
September 15, 7:00 PM vs. Clayton Valley
September 22, 7:00 PM vs. Newark Memorial
October 6, 7:00 PM @ Heritage*
October 13, 7:00 PM vs. Freedom*
October 20, 7:00 PM @ Liberty*
October 27, 7:00 PM vs. Deer Valley*
November 4, 1:30 PM @ Pittsburg*