Panthers take to the field to kick off a season of unknowns

Griff Servati,
The Van Alstyne Leader
Van Alstyne's Collin Reynolds makes a play after the catch against Pottsboro during the preseason scrimmage. Reynolds will be a main target for the Panthers in 2020.

It's here - something that is looked forward to with anticipation every August in Texas: Football kicks off its season.

We do not know what lies ahead, but we do know that the lights will be on at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Van Alstyne High School’s Panther Stadium.

Coach Mikeal Miller will lead his team out onto the field tonight for his thirteenth season as head coach.

He said he has seen his very young roster approach all uncertainties and changes with great attitudes to get to this point.

"Even though they are younger, they saw last year people miss out on opportunities, not taking anything for granted," Miller said of his team. "They are following the restrictions and guidelines, just having the opportunity, and they are excited."

The coaching staff is much the same as it was in the previous year. A trademark of the teams led by Miller is consistency.

Names that are well known and respected like Haynes, Hardcastle, Loganbill, Lands, Segleski, and Barnes will again be on the sideline.

Both of the coordinators are returning. Taylor Penn will head up the offense, and Jacey Guerrero will prepare the defense. The two new coaches are Jeff Middleton as an offensive line coach and Jeremy Armstreet as the secondary coach.

When you look at the roster for the Panthers, you see a small smattering of seniors who will be expected to lead a team filled with juniors and many sophomores.

Two of the senior leaders returning will be on the offensive and defensive line, Jacob Gallardo and Jake Smallwood. Two other senior leaders are Connor Loftice and Brett Long, who Miller said "do a lot of things the right way, which (is) important in leading especially with showing the example to younger players."

The opportunity is available for younger players to get on the field and gain experience this year.

Miller said his sophomore running back Jaden Mahan, a two-way player as a freshman last season, "will have to be big for us."

There was a competition that was not entirely settled on who will play quarterback for the Panthers.

In the recent past, the Panthers have traded out quarterbacks every series or quarter until time has shown who will get the responsibility to lead the team into district play.

On Friday night, fans will see two players take time at quarterback, but Miller said there will be less trading out than in the past.

Gavin Montgomery, a junior, will start this week, but Dakota Howard, a sophomore, will get several opportunities to lead the team. These two share more than one position on the field, as Miller said, "Whoever is the quarterback and whoever isn't the quarterback will start at safety."

Also, there will be some new names for Panthers fans to learn.

Leading the receivers will be Collin Reynolds. "He will be a guy we try to get the ball to a lot," said Miller.

Another name that has not been broadcast on the PA system recently on Friday nights is Cade Milroy, who hasn't played football in a couple of years but is shining in the preseason.

Nathan Henley, who has shown his speed and quickness on the basketball court, decided to play football as a senior and will be a receiver.

Loftice, Lucas Lindley, and Mateen Boudoin will also be names that fans in the stands will hear Bill Benton announce with a reception.

One change that will been seen in the Panthers’ offense is the use of a true tight-end. The tight-end has to have the size to join in on blocking assignments and catch the ball.

Those who will be taking on this new role are Trey Ratcliff, Cade Witley, and Chris Berrios, who Miller said "will be a good player for us. He is a senior that moved off and has returned."

Defensively, the Panthers have only one returning starter. Some of the new linebackers are Cade Whitley and Foster Cataldie, both sophomores.

Miller mentioned that he was impressed with junior linebacker Manny Chavira from the scrimmage against Pottsboro. Gavin Bybee is out the first two weeks due to injury, but when he returns, he will play a significant role on the defensive side.

Another sophomore who gained varsity experience as a freshman is Nic Loya. "He was pulled up last year and is a vocal leader especially on defense," said Miller.

The Panthers start the season playing two teams that played in the 2019 State Championships. The Panthers scrimmaged against Pottsboro last week and open the season against Gunter.

Miller said of his team after the scrimmage, "I was proud of our kids, they kept getting back up and competing. They stayed positive. We did some good things that you would not think a young team would do against Pottsboro. We ran the ball well at times, made some big plays. Our line did an outstanding job for being young and new."

A similar message from the scrimmage will be shared from Miller to his team as they face Gunter tonight.

’"We told our kids, `Don't be scared of the team we are playing because of what they have done. Go out there and compete for every play. If we get beat on a play, get back up and compete on the next one.’“

Coach Mikeal Miller, wearing a gaiter at the recent preseason scrimmage, starts his thirteenth season as head coach of the Panthers.