Nineteenth in a daily series spotlighting key area high school football teams leading to opening night, Aug. 30.
Coach: Mike Fuller
Last Season: 9-2 (7-1 in District 6-5A), lost 44-19 to Mansfield Timberview in bi-district round
Key players: QB Cody Thomas (6-4, 215), LB Christian Gonzales (6-0, 215), FS Myles Crosby (6-4, 185), OG Donovan Kleckner (5-10, 245), RB Connor Davis (5-10, 185), OL Will Devine (6-1, 240), OLB Austin Pettyjohn (5-8, 160), WR Daniel Farrington (5-10, 165), WR/CB Jacob Sisk (5-10, 170), OLB Justin Jones (6-0, 190).
The big picture: The Panthers are hoping to have another strong season this year, and it may hinge entirely on the performance of Heritage QB Cody Thomas. Heritage is returning only eight starters from last season, but one of them is Thomas, an Oklahoma-bound QB who competed in the Elite 11 finals in the summer, and on Thursday was selected to the USA Today 2012 preseason All-USA team. Heritage returns just 20 lettermen from last year's playoff squad, so there are not only questions about the first team, but also the team's subsequent depth. Integrating new players into the existing system will be key to the Panthers having success. The biggest challenge for the Heritage offense may be protecting Thomas. The line returns two starters in Will Devine and Donovan Kleckner. An ongoing problem for the Panthers so far in training camp has been staying healthy. At different times during camp, eight starters have been injured. Coach Mike Fuller said that while none of the injuries project to cause the players to miss a significant number of games during the season, they are preventing both the offensive and defensive first teams from developing as much chemistry as they normally would.
Quotable: "I expect Cody Thomas to compete and lead the offense. He needs to bring the guys who don't have experience along with him. Hopefully he will make them better." --head coach Mike Fuller
-- Louie Horvath
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