If the summer camps and noted improvements are any indication, the Delta Panthers could be more than just a force in Class 3A football circles. Delta returns a core of performers who were at the top of the class in many categories at the end of last season's campaign.
Last year's 8-4 record included wins over rival Palisade in regular season play and Conifer in the Class 3A playoffs. Discovery Canyon ended the Panthers' season in second-round action.
Several key players graduated, leaving room for young upstarts who are working hard to be recognized. Gone are the likes of all-conference lineman Marcus Garcia along with David Brown and Ali Medina.
Back for his senior year is First Team All-Stater Jonny Ponce who led Class 3A in rushing. Delta coach Ben Johnson reports Ponce is bigger and stronger; not good news for opponents' defensive teams.
Another returnee is Tristan Brown, a 6'3" junior whom Johnson notes as "one of the best recruits in the 2017 class." He performed very well at a rivals combine where he finished in the top eight.
Key newcomers for the Panthers include junior Kole Roberts who stands 6'1" and plays quarterback. Logan Church is expected to help the 'O' and 'D' lines as a sophomore who weighs 260 pounds. AB Ontiveros also gets approval from Johnson. Ontiveros split time with soccer and football two years ago but is now implanted in the Panthers' offense as a wide receiver who weighs 155 pounds and has great speed.
Offensively, Delta will rely on several returning starters from last season. Ponce will assert his 205-pound frame with authority, as will Brown who weighs in at 215 pounds. Beau Byers proved last year he belonged in the starting lineup after making spectacular catches for big gains. Kory Mills will be strong at tight end for the Panthers with his 6'2" frame and 190 pounds.
The Panthers have a few players who go both ways.
Brown is a force from his linebacker's position, while Mills can be just as devastating as Brown from his linebacker's spot.
Add the play of Damon Jensen at strong safety, and the Panthers are solid past the line of scrimmage.
Other returning players Johnson notes include offensive and defensive linemen Livan Santandar, 205 pounds, Kaleb Lindsey, a 225-pounder, and Stephen Davignon, 190 pounds.
Johnson believes the Panthers' strength is team speed, while there may be early questions about the play of their offensive line.
As usual, teams to beat in the 3A WSL include Rifle and Palisade.
Johnson has a good core of assistants surrounding him including Ryan Whittington, Paul Shean, Craig Cerise, Jesse Kendig, Lane Varner, Nick Orros, Matt Hamm and Luis Meza.
Delta, ranked in the top 20 by maxpreps.com, begins its regular-season schedule on Aug. 28 when the team travels to Colorado Springs to take on Tri-Peaks league's The Classical Academy. The game is set for a 7 p.m. kickoff.