Delta Panthers building a winning culture
Building a winning tradition in Class 3A Western Slope Conference football is no easy task.
But that’s what Ben Johnson has been doing at Delta High School.
Now in his fifth season as the head coach of the Panthers, Johnson is optimistic his team will continue the momentum established last year. Delta went 6-2 in the conference and 7-3 overall in the regular season to finish second in the conference to undefeated Rifle before losing 35-24 to Pueblo East in the Class 3A quarterfinals.
“It instills a lot of excitement to get into the playoffs,” Johnson said. “It really gets the kids ready for the next season.”
The Panthers made the playoffs in 2009, but prior to that it had been a number of years since they were in the postseason. Last year’s win over Palisade was also a huge hurdle to clear for the Panthers. It had been 19 years since Delta had defeated the Bulldogs, Johnson said.
“Just to create that winning culture is so important,” he said.
Johnson said one of the strengths of the 2013 Panthers will be size. Led by 270-pound offensive and defensive lineman Marcus Garcia, who Johnson said should be one of the best linemen in the league, Delta will be physical up front.
On offense, Tyler Sandoval will play a key role in lining up at fullback and tailback. The senior is the top returning rusher for the Panthers. Derek Horn, Jonny Pounce and Taylor Brown also will play roles in the running game.
Junior Gabe Gafford moves up from junior varsity to take over as the starting quarterback. At 6-foot-6, Gafford will be able to take advantage of passing lanes, and he will have some good wide receivers to throw to, led by 6-foot-3 senior Ryan Whiteside, Johnson said.
With at least four lineman weighing more than 220 pounds, the Panthers should be able to run the ball, and Johnson says that will be a big part of the game plan every week. He said it’s nice to have some big kids, but they are a fairly inexperienced group of linemen.
“We always want to be a physical team and have a run presence, but we want to throw the ball, too,” he said. “In order to be successful, we have to be balanced.”
Defensively, Delta returns its second-leading tackler from last year in linebacker Cordell Stroud, and 250-pound Jasiel Garcia will be an anchor at nose guard. Sandoval will be back at the other linebacker spot. Johnson believes linebacking will be a strength of the team and a key to winning in the tough WSC.
“The league is so physical that linebacking is so important,” he said.
With size up front and experienced linebackers, Johnson said the Panthers will have a good chance to slow down some of the good running games they face.
Johnson said his squad has decent team speed to go with size, and this is one of the deeper teams he’s coached.
“Overcoming injuries is always important, and this year we have good depth at key positions,” he said.