As the Panthers blitz into the second football season under head coach Casey Coulter; 2012, indeed, feels like a fresh start.
Coulter has a new coaching staff, a new offense, a new defense and a new crop of underclassmen.
This year feels totally different than last year. The kids are buying into what were doing, Coulter said. Weve doubled our numbers in one year and thats unheard of. Theres excitement around the school. The community, they want to see us do good, as does everybody. We want nothing more than success for our kids.
The Panthers are in a new league this year, too. Well, its their old home. But for many on the M-CHS roster, playing in the 3A Western Slope League will be a new experience after having played in the 2A Mountain League for the past two seasons.
Teams will be different, travel will be farther and competition will be tougher. But at the end of the day, its still football.
Youre going to face your Palisades, you know, your tough teams. Those will be battles, but our kids are going to be better for it in the long run. We have a great core group of kids, Coulter said. Everyones like, Well, we got to go back up. Well, you know what? Football is football. I can guarantee you, that Bayfield team last year, would have went into that (3A Western Slope) league and won that league. Hands down. You just got to play the game.
M-CHS has switched to a spread offense. Coulter will coach the offense, which will have a more versatile attack through the air. Senior quarterback Tallon Ralstin returns from a 2011 season ending collarbone injury. Sophomore quarterback Jonathan Walck will see time under center as well. Both QBs will have a prime target in senior veteran wide receiver Alex Lopez.
Weve been working hard over the summer, said a bulked up Lopez. I just want to lead my team. I want to help them any way I can. Hopefully, we get into the playoffs this year. Just (get) more wins than we had last year.
Lopez and his Panthers teammates are confident in the new offense and they feel like they have adjusted to the new scheme well.
So far, were clicking on all cylinders with the new offense and everything. Were just trying to get it to come together as a team, he said.
Senior running back Trenton Gustafson returns in the backfield to carry the load. The tall, stalky middle linebacker will look to halt opposing tailbacks at the line of scrimmage on defense. Gustafson has big goals in mind his senior year as a captain.
Its kind of good to get to lead the group. We got a lot of kids out, said Gustafson, who hopes to play college football. I want to get all-state. I want to play in the all-state game.
On defense, M-CHS will employ a new 4-4 (four linemen and four linebackers) look. Coulters father, Mike, is the defensive coordinator and hell also help with the offensive line. Mike Coulter used to be the head coach at Canon City High School.
Rally to the ball, Casey Coulter said. Were not doing a lot of stunting. Were keeping it simple. Not a lot of thinking, just reacting. Theyll be much better off.
Sophomore middle linebacker Randy Haley is expected to be a major cog in the defensive backfield. The Panthers are physically bigger and stronger on both sides of the ball than last season.
Will it translate into wins?
M-CHS posted a 1-9 record in 2011 after being decimated with injuries and inexperience. While theres confidence and excitement in the 2012 Panthers camp, players and coaches are simply approaching the season one game at a time.
We just got to take it step-by-step every game, Lopez said. Just week-to-week, we need to work hard.
M-CHS kicks off the season Friday, Aug. 30, at 2A Cedaredge in a nonconference game. The Panthers know how critical it is to start off on the right foot and quickly establish an identity.
Theyre going to be a good team to play, Lopez said. Its going to be good going into our league. If we can get a win, it would be nice. It would help us out getting momentum going into the next game.
It will get everyones hopes up for a good season, he said about beating Cedaredge.
M-CHS will play at Panther Stadium only four times this year. The home slate starts Sept. 7, with Battle Mountain (Edwards), which also begins league play. Homecoming is Oct. 5, versus the Delta Panthers.
M-CHS will end the regular season stepping out of conference to renew its rivalry with 4A Durango on the road Nov. 2. The Demons will come to Cortez in 2013.
Other coaches on the staff include, Travis Greenlee (running backs, outside linebackers), Dana Galyon (receivers) and Dusty DeBoer (defensive line).
The coaches are nice. They teach us the assignments that we need to get done, Gustafson said. Were feeling really good. Were getting everything we need to get done.
They know what theyre doing. Theyre helping us out, added Lopez about the coaching staff. Theyve been helping us out step-by-step with everything on the new offense, defense, everything. Its been working really well.