Jeff Smith 6 p.m., Feb. 27
Season Preview: Vista Panthers
Last Year: 7-6 (2nd in Avocado East, lost in D-I finals) Returning Starters: 4 on offense/6 on defense Top Players: QB Anthony Pabloff (Sr.), RB/DB Jacob Bedford (Sr.), RB Chad Richardson (Sr.), OL/DL Sia Satele (Jr.) Newcomers to Watch: LB Zac Lofting (So.), LB David Faatuiese (So.)
Inexperienced Vista not making any excuses this season
No matter what happens to Vista this season, they plan to be excuse-free. Since their 2011 season ended with a blowout loss in the Division I finals, the Panthers’ offseason rallying cry has centered around not making excuses.
“That serves as motivation and helps us pick it up during practices,” said senior quarterback Anthony Pabloff. “Our tempo has been better than last year.”
Last season Vista lost its first four games before bouncing back and making a run to the section finals. Though the Panthers’ 2011 campaign ended in forgettable fashion, head coach Dan Williams made sure this year’s team would have a constant reminder, adorning team shirts with ‘56-0 – No Excuses!’ on the back.
“He talked to us in January on the first day we started lifting and straight up told us that he was going to put ‘56-0’ on the back of our shirts, and that that was the worst we had ever been beaten,” Pabloff said. “Ever since then no one on our team has wanted to lose that badly.”
Vista enters this season talented but inexperienced. Williams said the Panthers will start five sophomores when they open the season at home against Aurora (Colo.) Grandview on Aug. 31.
“We have some very good, young, talented kids this year,” Williams said. “We’re so young that the future is bright.”
None of the sophomores are more crucial to Vista’s success than the inside linebacker tandem of Zac Lofting and David Faatuiese. Williams said the 6-foot-2-inch linebackers are both Division I-caliber talents.
“Zac runs really well and he’s understanding our scheme, and David is a big, physical kid that can plug stuff like crazy,” Williams said. “They’re not playing like sophomores right now.”
Defense has long been Vista’s strong suit, and the Panthers will lean on their “Blackshirts” again in 2012. The defensive front led by senior Matt Reschke, senior Lino Corneil and junior Sia Satele will set the tone for the Panthers on the line of scrimmage.
“We have speed and we hustle to the ball,” said senior running back/defensive back Jacob Bedford. “We just need to learn how to start hitting better.”
On offense, the Panthers plan is a run-first attack behind the senior backfield duo of Bedford and Chad Richardson. From the quarterback position, the 6-foot, 210-pound Pabloff will also get his share of carries.
“We have a better offensive line than we did last year, but since we’re so young we’re not ready to take on that deep passing game,” Pabloff said. “I’m kind of big quarterback, so I like to take contact. Since we have the option in our playbook, it’s perfect for me.”
On both sides of the ball, Vista has question marks in the passing game. Williams said the Panthers’ receivers and defensive backs are weaknesses head into the season.
“We have a couple pass plays, but nothing too fancy or crazy – we’ll just keep it simple with short routes,” Pabloff said.
In addition to Grandview, currently ranked eighth in Colorado by MaxPreps, Vista’s nonleague schedule includes defending state champion Helix and Torrey Pines. The Panthers join the Avocado West League this season, where they will face Oceanside, La Costa Canyon, Carlsbad and El Camino.
“It’s probably the toughest we’ve had in a while, but I like the challenge,” Pabloff said.
Vista is seeking its fourth consecutive section finals appearance this season, and has the talent to make a return trip in a wide open Division I race. Williams said the development of the Panthers’ young talent will be the key to their success in 2012.
“We need to go out and compete and let our young guys get the feel and understanding of the game,” Williams said. “Once those guys get on board, we’ll be good.”