After making the postseason in each of the past two seasons, the momentum heading into the 2016 campaign is high for the Delta football team.
The Panthers did have 11 letter winners depart, but they also return 17 players who saw action last season. Delta finished last season 7-5 overall and 4-3 in the NWOAL, falling to Van Buren in the second round of the playoffs.
“We have a huge learning curve and we should get better each week, it just depends on our depth and how fast we get the young guys acclimated to varsity football. The speed and physicality of the game at the varsity level,” said second-year coach Jeff Wolford. “We must stay healthy. But if we keep working we can have a team on the field that we are proud of.”
A few key players back for Delta include running back Jesse Beverly who was first team All-NWOAL, first team all-district and special mention All-Ohio in 2015. He rushed for 1,450 yards as a junior.
Other returnees are Jaccob Wolford (honorable mention all-league), Brandan Langwell (honorable mention all-league), Nathan Kohlhoffer, Dylan Rogers (honorable mention all-league) and Dustin Cowden.
“We may have 40 kids (out) so numbers are improving,” said Wolford on the strengths of his team. “The kids are very coachable, they work hard, and so far are very disciplined.”
However, among the 11 letter winners lost to graduation, many of them received all-league honors. Thus, a lot of experience has departed.
The Panthers will have to replace Dustin Marteney (first team all-league, second team all-district), Chance Veller (NWOAL Co-Defensive Player of the Year, first team all-district, second team All-Ohio), Bailey Storeholder (second team all-league, second team all-district), Devon Richard (first team all-league, second team all-district), Evan Vasquez (second team all-league, first team all-district, special mention All-Ohio) and Austin Sayen (first team all-league, second team all-district).
They also lost Noah Parsons, Ron Vargyas, and Aaron Abbott who each were honorable mention all-league a season ago.
“We are very young and inexperienced,” said Wolford. “We have lost two great senior classes in a row and it has caught up with us. We do not have players with much experience but they are working hard and seem coachable.”
Newcomers for the Panthers are Dylan Smith, Travis Barnes, Kaden Harper, Collin Hoffman, Jason Beverly, Travis Dunning, Dylan Swicegood and Tristan Seager.
Coach Wolford expects the NWOAL race to be a tough one.
“The league goes through Liberty Center this year, then I would say Swanton, Wauseon, and now you must look at Patrick Henry,” he said. “After that it is a dog fight. We will be competitive and hopefully in the fight.”
Delta starts the season by hosting Toledo Christian Friday.
Max Householder can be reached at 419-335-2010