Inside the Panthers
Last season: 3-7
Returning starters: 10 (6 offense, 4 defense)
Returning offensive leader
Justin Green, Sr., RB. 154 yards, 2 TDs
Returning defensive leader
Tyler Lipski, Sr., CB. 47 tackles
Justin Green, Sr., RB. "His skill and ability when we give him the ball and what he can do in the open field is impressive," coach Jim Pickett said. "He's more of a finesse back."
He's got next
Troy Cullen, Soph., QB; Zach Thomas, Soph., QB. "They're neck and neck. They throw the ball well and are pretty good in the option," Pickett said.
The Times' breakdown
A 3-7 season with three losses by seven points or less was tough to take for first-year head coach Pickett, a long-time fixture in the program. It was the Panthers' first losing season since 2003. They return 10 starters, six on offense, but lack star power. RB Green moved in from Las Vegas last summer but didn't play until the sectional opener against Highland because of a delay in paperwork. In his only appearance, Green had 29 carries for 154 yards and two TDs but was injured late in the 20-18 loss. "Last year, we had a lot of marquee players," Pickett said. "We've got a situation now where a lot of guys are following legends." With do-it-all QB Austin Brown gone, Pickett could move Kyle Buikema (5 for 10, 50 yards, 2 TDs) to running back (27 carries, 42 yards, 1 TD), where he'd join Green and Tristin Olsen (7 carries, 24 yards, 1 TD). Tyler Lipski (3 catches, 24 yards) was the fifth-leading receiver and is the top kick returner back. Schedule changes include Wheeler replacing New Prairie and Bowman Academy replacing E.C. Central.
— Al Hamnik