In his eighth season, Ben Johnson may be heading into a very rewarding football season at Delta High School. Not that the past few seasons haven't been rewarding, but, dropping from Class 3A to Class 2A could be the beginning of a new era of potential higher rewards.
The Panthers were in the state playoffs the past four years under Johnson and have played in semifinal action in 2013 and 2015. Last year's loss to Roosevelt was a heartbreaker for the entire community of Delta.
With its new 2A classification in football, Delta looks to be in an enviable position with a top-billing in early season rankings.
Johnson, and the Panthers, return 12 players who lettered a year ago and will have a stable of seniors to rely on. Tristan Brown, a 6-3, 240 pound running back and linebacker, will draw close scrutiny from opposing coaches.
On offense, Brown moves from fullback to tailback where he is expected to be a go-to guy when tough yards are needed and strength is an added weapon. Brown's nose for the ball will serve him well on defense.
Kole Roberts is dangerous at quarterback with a better than average arm (over 2,000 yards passing last season) and deceptive quickness and speed.
Wide receiver Beau Byers will demand his share of respect and is a threat to catch the ball anywhere on the field. Byers had nine touchdowns and more than 1,000 yards in receptions.
AB Ontiveros handles the kicking duties for the Panthers and has speed that he uses on kick returns and at a wide receiver's position.
Other key players returning for the Panthers include Livan Santander who plays both sides of the ball with a 5-7 and 210 pound frame.
Junior Logan Church is another solid performer on both the offensive and defensive lines. At 260 and standing six feet tall, Church will be a force on the line.
Several other players were tabbed as key players for the Panthers by Johnson. Included in that list were seniors Damon Jensen (RB) and Andy Richards (RB/LB). Junior Jacob Wear (OL/DL) and sophomore Aiden Barrios (OL/DL) are expected to see extended playing time as well.
The strength of Delta's team in 2016 was a no-brainer response for Johnson. "It's our senior leadership. This is a very strong senior class that comes through in big games."
Delta is part of Class 2A Intermountain's lineup for 2016. The teams that make up the conference are Alamosa, Bayfield (last year's state champion), Gunnison, Cortez and Pagosa Springs.
The Panthers opened their 2016 campaign against Durango on Aug. 26 in Delta (See related story in today's paper).