Success brings its own challenges.
Although Fossil Ridge will not allow others to put pressure on the 2014 team to match or exceed that success, there’s a quiet confidence amongst the Panthers in camp.
It also helps when you return eight players on offense after making the regional finals in the playoffs. Only four return on defense, but those four tallied enough tackles to make most coaches envious.
Head coach Tony Baccarini said last season’s second-place district finish is certainly something they feel they can build on. It was a team which lost four games with a cumulative difference of just 16 points.
“We also have some very good leadership coming back as well as players,” Baccarini said. “They care about each other and train hard.”
Those on defense, although limited in numbers, certainly lead by example. Each of the four had over 90 tackles each last year, Baccarini noted.
Bryce Hines, an all-stater with 167 tackles last year, returns at middle linebacker to lead the defense.
Hines will be joined by free safety Montrelle Wilson, who notched 100 tackles and is now a Baylor commit.
The secondary will be even tougher, as Ridge also has strong safety Charlie Walker returning. Walker had three interceptions returned for touchdowns in the playoffs last season. He is a recent commit to Harvard.
Helping to establish a new front, will be defensive end Roy Sutton, a three-year starter with over 100 tackles last year.
Newcomers to the defense were impressive in spring drills, but it wasn’t a surprise to Baccarini as he noted the Panthers’ JV team was also second in district to Carroll last year.
“The defense and our offensive line were the high point coming of the spring,” Baccarini said.
All five offensive linemen return from the conclusion of last year, and there’s plenty of excitement about their potential.
Add a 1,000-yard all purpose back in Keshawn Mitchell and two other quality backs – Travion Smith and Anthony Smith (not related), and the backfield lacks only a new starter under center to cement a solid crew.
That position will be occupied by either senior Gabe Monk or junior Bryce Baccarini.
“That’s the big question on every team,” Baccarini said of the quarterback situation prior to practices starting. “If splitting time can get us to the end zone,” he said, alluding to not being adverse to using the quarterbacks in tandem. “They were even coming out of spring. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Passing the ball for either quarterback will seem easier with returning receivers Cameron Castleberry (an Air Force commit) and Cody Seidel back on the field.
Seidel has also drawn considerable attention for this kicking. Baccarini noted Seidel is regarded as one of the best in the region.
With the exit of Carroll after the new district alignments, many perceive Fossil Ridge as a contender for the top spot, but there’s plenty of competition in each and every contest.
Baccarini isn’t getting caught up in how his Panthers may fare against last season’s 5A state champ Denton Guyer or other top programs now in District 5-6A.
“We’ll concentrate on us more than who we play,” he said.
That concentration will be exhibited during the first scrimmage on the morning of Aug. 22 at Birdville. The first game of the season will be on Saturday, Aug. 30 against Tyler Lee in the East Texas Kickoff Classic at 7 p.m.