By the end of the season the only question the Panthers coaches and players were answering was to give someone their ring size.
The Panthers won the district title, got thorough a tough state quarterfinal tilt with undefeated Giddings, then toppled Celina to win the 3A-II state championship.
Now the question entering 2007 is can the Panthers repeat?
Coach Jerry Vance returns 13 total starters from last season's title team and while the Slot-T offense seems to keep rolling along like a buzz saw every year, the seven returning defensive starters make the Panthers a title contender again and the No. 1 3A team in Central Texas.
Offensively the Panthers must replace the departed Brent Bode, who provided explosive plays in the running game and was the TSWA 3A Offensive Player of the Year in 2006. The key to the offense will be running back Doug Allman, who gained nearly all of his 1,900-plus yards last season between the tackles and can use his 4.7 speed to pull away from defenders or his outstanding strength to carry them to the end zone. Heading into last season the Panthers looked to have their best defense ever under Vance and that was the case as the stoppers came up with big plays in big moments, especially in the playoffs. The front seven is the strength of this unit as all-State players Marlowe Poitier and Cody Lattimore return. Poitier was a force at defensive end last season with 70 stops and an eye-popping 24 tackles for loss in his debut season. Lattimore has been a beast at linebacker since his freshman season and as a sophomore he again led the Panthers in tackles with 124 and was the 18-3A Defensive MVP.
The Panthers will once again play a tough non-district schedule, although their rematches with Cuero and Wimberley (their only two losses last season) are at home. The rest of 18-3A looks to be reloading after some heavy losses, especially at Hutto and Cameron Yoe, and upstart Rockdale could prove to be the Panthers toughest opponent.
Come playoff time in Division II the state quarterfinal matchup could have the Panthers on a collision course once again to take on Giddings for bragging rights in Region III with the winner likely to meet Celina in the title game.
By the time the playoffs roll around the Panthers should have their Slot-T clicking and the defense will be good enough again to get the Panthers as far as they want to go in 2007.
Recapping TPI's Central Texas 3A Preseason Top 10:
2. Giddings – All signs point to the Buffaloes meeting Liberty Hill in the state quarterfinals again this season and a talented, experienced senior class might have enough to get by the Panthers.
4. Wimberley – Several question marks surround the Texans after graduating a fine senior class, but they still look to be the best Division II ball club in Region IV.
5. Waco La Vega – The Pirates will not be able to catch anyone off guard this season, especially with a solid defense and an explosive backfield, led by sophomore Chris Parr, returning.
8. Robinson – After making the 3A-I title game last season, the Rockets are looking to reload, especially at the quarterback position where Randy Kitchens in gone.
9. Plesanton - Quarterback Niko Salinas, last season's District 27-3A MVP, will be the key top the Eagles success this season.
10. La Vernia – The Bears will be counting on two-way standout Corey Fuller, a 6-foot5-inch receiver/safety who has committed to SMU, to make plays.