Delta High School is big, experienced and talented. Delta is a good football team.
After a semifinal appearance in the Class 3A playoffs last season, the Panthers return the bulk of their starters, and head coach Ben Johnson is looking for his returning players to be leaders.
“We got a lot of good seniors that give us a lot of leadership,” he said.
With senior quarterback Cade Gafford and junior running back Jonny Ponce returning, the Panthers will have two of the best players in the Class 3A Western Slope Conference.
Delta’s diverse offense kept teams off balance last year, and Johnson said the goal is to be as balanced as possible.
“We’re not really a passing team, we’re more of a running team, but we want to have the ability to pass,” he said.
Last year, Delta showed it can pass well to complement the running of Ponce, who rushed for more than 1,600 yards on the season.
The Panthers will return all but three players on offense, but the three who graduated were big-time players.
Johnson said Delta will find good players to replace them at wide receiver, guard and fullback, but the coach said it will be more of a challenge on defense.
“We probably have more returning on the offensive side of the ball than defensively, so we’re really looking for some young kids to step up on defense,” he said.
Johnson mentioned sophomore inside linebacker Tristen Brown as a key newcomer and Derek Horn at outside linebacker. Horn also will see time at running back.
Delta will be big along the offensive front, anchored by 280-pound senior Marcus Garcia and 250-pound senior Chance Wolfe.
Offensively, Gafford threw for more than 2,000 yards last season, so Johnson is expecting even more from the 6-foot-6 QB.
“With Cade’s experience from last year, I think it will help us tremendously,” Johnson said.
The coach said they are looking at as many as six receivers who could play major roles in the passing game, including 6-5 senior Eian Baier and quick senior David Brown.
Getting quality linebacker play and defensive line penetration will be essential to playing the physical teams in the WSC, Johnson said.
Johnson said the Panthers will have to be good on defense and get better throughout the season.
With a brutal nonconference schedule that includes The Classical Academy, a Class 3A semifinal team, and Montrose, which was in the 4A title game, the Panthers have to play well from the first kickoff.
With only the WSC champ getting an automatic playoff bid, wildcard points are crucial in securing a playoff spot.
“It doesn’t leave us a lot of room for error in our league, which is a very tough league,” Johnson said about the nonconference schedule. “Our league was hard, and now it’s gotten even harder.”
After a great run in last year’s playoffs, Johnson is looking to an experienced team that was only one win away from the 3A title game to possibly go further this season.