Football preview: Santa Rosa Panthers believe ‘this is the year’

By KERRY BENEFIELD
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Tight end Devonte Manning catches a ball during Santa Rosa High School football practice, Tuesday, August 19, 2014. (Photo by Crista Jeremiason, The Press Democrat)

Tight end Devonte Manning catches a ball during Santa Rosa High School football practice, Tuesday, August 19, 2014. (Photo by Crista Jeremiason, The Press Democrat)

It all started so well last season. Convincing wins against Petaluma and Antioch vaulted the Panthers into the polls as well as onto the football radar.

And then.

Then came the banged-up players, the losses, the downturn in morale.

The Panthers finished the season with a disappointing 2-8 record.

“We had injuries to some key players and (that) kind of changed the tide of the season,” coach Dave Duncan said. “We just couldn’t keep all of our starters on the field at the same time.”

But 2014 promises to be a different story for the talented Panthers who return some key players on both sides of the line, including senior Devonte Manning who is expected to wreak havoc wherever he may roam.

“Devonte Manning should be dominating on both sides of the ball this year,” Duncan, now in this third year, said.

“When he wants to play football, he’s unstoppable,” he said. “Teams have to have a game plan — where is No. 5?”

A leading tackler at defensive end, Manning was also a standout on the other side of the ball. He pulled down 22 catches for 296 yards last year and is likely to be a favorite target of whoever gets the nod at quarterback.

That could be all-around athlete Harvey McPeters. The senior led the Panthers with 30 tackles playing outside linebacker last season but in the spring showed interest in piloting the Panthers’ offense at quarterback.

He is battling sophomore Cassius Banks for starting honors.

“Both kids are going to play quarterback,” Duncan said, but who is going to be named starter heading into league play was still being battled out at practice in the workouts leading to preseason play.

“Who is going to step up and say ‘This is my position,’ ” Duncan said. “I trust both of them.”

Whoever takes over at quarterback will have options on offense.

Shane Simpson returns at wide receiver where he led all receivers last year with 30 catches for 434 yards.

The Panthers won’t have workhorse Gabe Roque’s big rushing numbers from last season, but if dynamic runner Jahi Hayes can remain healthy after a junior campaign that was plagued by nagging injuries, Duncan said the running back could rack up big stats this season.

“He’s a back who can get you a thousand yards — easy,” he said.

On defense, the Panthers return a slew of top talent including outside linebacker and wide receiver Eamon Reed, who said a lack of depth will not be a factor for the squad this season.

“Especially on defense. We are stacked,” Reed said.

The work ethic to push the turnaround from last year’s dismal season has been apparent through spring and summer workouts, Hayes said.

“We are way more focused,” he said. “There is a difference between thinking you want it and actually wanting it. We didn’t put enough work in for it.”

That has left the Panthers with an eye toward a winning campaign, McPeters said.

“This is the year for Santa Rosa to be big,” he said.

You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com and on Twitter @benefield

SANTA ROSA PANTHERS

Coach: Dave Duncan (3rd year)

2013 record: 2-8


2013 JV record: 0-10

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Jahi Hayes, Sr., RB — If Hayes can stay healthy, the senior could rush for 1,000 yards.

Devonte Manning, Sr., TE, DB — An all-around athlete with size and speed, No. 5 is one to watch on both sides of the ball.

Shane Simpson, Sr., WR, DB — A workhorse, Simpson led all receivers last year with 30 catches for 434 yards.

Harvey McPeters, Sr., QB — A multi-talented athlete who led the team with 30 tackles at outside linebacker last season is making a bid for the starting quarterback job.

GAMES NOT TO MISS

Sept. 19 at Deer Valley: Players hope to avenge 50-16 home loss last year that marked the beginning of a season-long slide. On Oct. 24, the Panthers will face their cross-town rival Montgomery Vikings at home.

ALL-TIME HIGHLIGHT

In 2012, the Panthers posted a home win against the Vikings — the first win over Montgomery in 22 years. “I think that was a good win for Santa Rosa football,” Duncan said.

SCHEDULE

Aug. 29, Petaluma, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 5, Bye

Sept. 12, Antioch, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 19, at Deer Valley, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 26, at Cardinal Newman, 7 p.m.

Oct. 3, Ukiah, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 10, at Maria Carrillo, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 17, Windsor, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 24, Montgomery, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 31, at Casa Grande, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 7, at Rancho Cotate, 7:30 p.m.