The Panthers enter the new year with a bevy of lost production, but they think they have the answers to fill those shoes.
Nine-year Whitman-Hanson Regional High football head coach Mike Driscoll knows well what his team is tasked with replacing.
That’s seven starters on offense, eight starters on defense and 21 players in total, who produced 2,472 yards of offense, 33 touchdowns, 594 tackles, 21.5 sacks and eight interceptions last fall alone. While the losses are eye-popping, Driscoll said the cover isn’t as bare as it may appear.
“In all honesty, we have probably eight guys who started games on defense for us and we have another six who started games on defense for us due to injuries or something else that happened during the season,” said Driscoll, whose team finished 8-3 last season. “So we have experience.”
While the offense will likely take some time to develop with the bevy of new faces, Driscoll said the Panthers are going to rely heavily on their defense. W-H held opponents to just over 11 points per game last fall.
“We feel really good about our defense,” Driscoll said. “They’re flying around. We’re quick and we’re going to come at you from all different angles this year.”
The secondary will key the unit with senior captain Tommy George (22 tackles and two interceptions last season) back as a starter at cornerback. Senior Devin Coulstring will start opposite George, while junior Jason Murphy will start at strong safety as will senior Jon Zeidan at free safety. They all have some experience under their belts.
“We have a lot of depth there with those guys back,” Driscoll said. “Jason is one of the better strong safeties in the area.”
Senior returning starters, captain C.J. Guiliani (55 tackles and three sacks last season) and Joseph McStravick (25 tackles last season) headline a strong linebacking core.
Junior Zach Boisjolie (nine tackles and a sack last season) returns as the starting nose guard and will anchor a new-look defense line that will also feature sophomore Malcom Alcorn-Crowder and seniors Jared Homes and Declan Meehan.
Though, Declan Meehan’s value comes more on the offensive line, where he’s the only returning starter at right guard.
“That’s where we took the biggest hit,” Driscoll said. “We lost four really good linemen. That’s going to be a work in progress.”
Declan’s brother, sophomore Conor Meehan, will man the duties under center.
“He’s got great poise and he’s got one heck of an arm,” Driscoll said. “He’s kind of like our typical quarterbacks that we’ve had, where he’s got great feet but he’s definitely got a great arm and he knows the game very well.”
Conor will have the 6-foot Zeidan, Giulliani (four catches for 37 yards, TD last season) and George as returning targets.
Murphy, who can also play quarterback, will be the bell cow out of the backfield.
“Jason Murphy makes us a better team playing running back, defensive back and returner for us,” Driscoll said. “Jason is dynamic. He’s the fastest player we got. He’s also a weight room warrior. He’s a leader of the team.”
Junior Max Rodri will take over the kicking duties, a role Jake O’Brien handled for the past two seasons.
“He’s a fabulous kicker,” Driscoll said of Rodri. “He worked his tail off in the summer and is kicking them into the endzone on kickoffs already. He’s going to be huge.”
Driscoll said he wouldn’t be surprised at all if it took a few weeks for his team to come into its own.
“We can talk to them about it, but it’s the speed of the game and that they’re going to realize that speed is a lot different than where it is in the scrimmages or practice,” said the coach. “It’s a whole different atmosphere on Friday nights. Once they got to get through that once, I think they’ll be all right.”
The Panthers are scheduled to open their season at home Friday, Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. against Concord-Carlisle.
“We want to grow and be competitive in this awesome Patriot League and I think we’re going to surprise some teams as we go along,” said Driscoll. “These guys have a chip on their shoulder. The other teams will look at you a little different, but they’ll find out once the games start that we’re still a pretty good football program.”