NAUGATUCK — The Tug Valley Panthers are looking to reload in 2016 after the loss of 16 seniors during the off season.
Tug Valley football has been on a high note for the last couple of years, with two of the most successful season in the schools history. The Panthers are only Class-A but they have filled the roster with a good medium of strong and fast players. The Panthers went 7-3 in the regular season last year and 1-1 in the post season. Most of the talent that got them there has moved on, like quarterback Tyler Conley and fullback Phillip Lucas, but a dominant junior class is ready for another year.
The Panthers lost their wide threats in, Corbin Oliver and Calvin Blankenship. They lost big time linemen in John Hall, Dustin Mills, Ike Starr, and Dakota Bryant. Dylan Dotson and Tyler Estepp will deeply be missed on the defensive side of the ball. What are the Panthers to do this season?
None of this worry is felt in the Panthers locker room. The returning Panthers have been taking the off season seriously. The Tug Valley coaching staff has improved a lot equipment in the weight room, they have beefed up their strength and conditioning program and have plenty of players ready for the leaves to turn.
The Panthers will face a decent schedule this season with five away games and five home games. The big concern, for the Panthers, will be a week six trip to Buffalo to take on the Bison that stampeded the Panthers 19-0 last season. The Panthers will begin the season with two road games against Sherman and meadow Bridge. They will have three home games with Sheldon Clark, Tolsia, and Van. Next they will travel twice with Buffalo and Valley(Fayette), then two home games with Mount View and Montcalm. The Final game of the season will be against the Man Hillbillies at Man.
The Panthers free week will be the last week which could be a blessing depending on how the season progresses, but will most definitely be good if the Panthers need to heal some hurt players before making another playoff run.
Settling into the quarterback position this season will be last years back-up, Jeremy Dillon. Dillon will bring a different style of play to the Panthers backfield for certain.
The defense is what could be fuzzy at the moment. The loss of Mills and Hall leave big gaps on the defensive line, the Panthers aren’t sure whether they will have to move to a more defensive back oriented style of defense. A defense heavy on defensive backs helps and hurts in different ways but, it is something the Panthers can work with.
Panther assistant coach Justin Crawford said, “I know it’s early but we are looking pretty good. We have had a good turnout during this workout period and the kids are ready to play. Our junior class is really something else, we lost a lot of veteran team leaders but there are we don’t have any shortage of players ready to step up and fill that role.”
The Panthers have made the playoffs an expectation instead of a hopeful goal for the season.
(William Plaster is the sports reporter for the Williamson Daily News, he can be reached at 304-235-4242 or at [email protected] or on twitter @sidplater)