The boys of summer may still be on the diamond, but the men of fall are preparing for another season on the gridiron. We begin our march towards the opening night of high school football with our 44 Blitz previews, kicking it off on Evansville's west side with the Reitz Panthers.
"The last two years have been pretty rocky." Reitz senior running back Jay Smith says. "Especially for the senior class."
"The past two years, record-wise, it's not what we want," Reitz head coach Cory Brunson says.
"This senior class has really taken up the charge of how Reitz football is going to be for the future," Reitz senior offensive lineman Sam Vogel.
A cursory glance at the Reitz Bowl demonstrates the pride the Panther program has. And much like the facelift their stadium has received in the off-season, head coach Cory Brunson's squad is looking to return to past glory.
"So this year's theme is "Be the Change", says Brunson. "I think this off-season, this group has done that."
"We want to be the changing class," says Smith, "our last year, and leave that on for other classes behind us and we really want to turn the program around to what we know Reitz football is."
That will be a tough task, coming off back-to-back losing seasons, including last year's 4-and-7 campaign. However, with one of the largest senior classes in the state, these Panthers are motivated.
"Last year we had a small senior class, probably around 12-ish, give or take," says Brunson. "This year we're in the low thirties. It's a big senior group. All those guys are returning players. Those guys have had a good off-season, so I expect big things from those guys."
It all begins on offense, where senior Nate Staley appears to be the heir apparent to Reid Brickley at quarterback. Staley will have a strong backfield behind him, led by senior Jay Smith and junior Jonas Burnett, who combined for more than a thousand yards and 12 touchdowns. Staley will also have a wide range of targets, led by a trio of seniors in Blaise Fox, Isaac Maynard and Alex Clark at wide receiver, as well as senior tight end Austin Diedrich. And then of course there is offensive line, anchored by a quartet veterans.
"I see a bunch of playmakers," says Smith. "I can see a defense trying to shut down one person, but that just opens up opportunities for the next guy. Defenses are going to struggle to be able to stop all of our playmakers, and I think we're going to put up a lot of points this year."
"I'm liking a lot of stuff with our skill players and our line up front" says Reitz senior quarterback Nate Staley. "Obviously we struggled a little bit last year. Our QB had to scramble a couple times, but we've got a lot of players back on the line."
"Those guys are the key," says Brunson. "They also had a great off-season. Lifted hard. They were there lifting all the time. So those guys better get the job done."
"I really like the line," Reitz senior offensive lineman Sam Vogel says . "A lot of these guys we've played with since 8th grade. I've known them a very long time. We just mesh real well together."
While there are five returning starters on the defensive side of the ball, youth will be served as the Panthers look to turn around a unit which gave up 35 points or more in eight games last season.
"We lost a number of guys up front" says Brunson, "but D-line, Max Bell is back with Leeland Head. Linebacker-wise Dylan Martin is back, The secondary we have some new guys, some young guys."
"Defense is looking pretty strong in practice," says Vogel. "I know sometimes it's pretty tough to block some of those guys. The younger class, they're doing pretty good. I think our defense is going to be pretty good this year."
"A lot of young guys stepping up, especially some of our linebackers and DBs," says Smith. "I know sophomores are stepping up and filling shoes. And that's what we need from the under classmen. They can't come in and play scared. I think the defense is definitely going to have some ballhawks this year."