Last season, the Panther football team finished with a strong 8-2 record, going on to place second on the Southside of the Uppermidwest Athletic Conference (UMAC). The Panthers would then go on to make an appearance in the “Victory Bowl.” COVID-19 has forced teams to postpone their fall season into the spring. This season will be much different from any other season, but there will also be more anticipation leading into it. It is always important to look at which players each team is bringing back in order to determine success for the upcoming season. Here are some of the key returners from each team from the Southern division of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC).
The Panthers will be looking forward to bringing back many pieces from last year’s team. One of the biggest returners for the Panthers will be running back, Paul Garrett. Garrett, a sophomore from Goodwater, Alabama, was a key contributor to the team’s success. In the 2019 season, he played in 11 games, rushed for nearly 1200 yards, and found his way to the end-zone 13 times. Garrett was named to the All-Conference 1st Team NCCAA.
Anthony Esquivel, a defensive lineman, was a huge part of the Panther’s success and looks to play a large role this year as well. Esquivel, a senior from Rowland Heights, California, played in all 11 games last season, snagging 68 tackles, 9.5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. He was another Panther that was selected for the All-Conference 1st Team NCCAA, and named as the UMAC Defensive Player of the Year.
The next key returner on the offensive side of the ball is lineman Sam Fitch. Fitch, a senior from Belleville, Illinois, brings experience to the team. Fitch was also selected to the All-Conference 1st Team NCCAA last season. Fitch will look to become a 4-year starter this year. Not only is he experienced, he is also very versatile. Fitch slides around from position to position on the line depending on where he is needed most.
Another key returner for the Panthers is linebacker Lakari Benjamin. Benjamin, a junior from Modesto, California, is looking to have another strong season. Last year Benjamin played in all 11 games, tallied up 69 tackles, and added on 3.5 sacks. He is another player who will be able to use his experience in order to help the Panthers this season.
The Panthers will be a younger team this you, but look to have a strong season with Garrett, Fitch, Esquivel, Benjamin, and other returners to lead the way.
The Bluejays will be bringing back defensive lineman’s Kobe Kaminski who played in 10 games with 46 tackles and 7.5 sacks They will also be bringing back wide receiver Travion Mosby, who started all 10 games for the Bluejays and had 49 receptions for 693 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season. The Bluejays were 4-6 last season and will look to bounce back in the shortened season.
The Iowa Wesleyan Tigers will be bringing back their quarterback, Leo Alvarez, who played in 9 games and threw for 710 yards and added 4 passing touchdowns. Defensively, the Tigers will be bringing back linebacker Josef McCulloch who played in 10 games and had 63 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, and an interception. The team had a winless season last year at 0-10.
The Panthers will play both Westminster and Iowa Wesleyan twice in the regular season. Last season the Panthers beat the Bluejays 36-0 and beat the Tigers 21-0. With the Panthers bringing back key players on both offense and defense and winning their matchups against both teams last year the team has a great opportunity for success again this season.
Esquivel, the UMAC Defensive Player of the Year, said, “Even though there is not a fall season right now, you better believe that we are going to be the best and hardest to beat team out there.” The Panthers will be a team to keep an eye on this coming spring looking to compete for a conference championship.
Media by Paul Garrett.