Panthers look for rebound season in 2013

Independent team with players from Conant, Mascenic and WLC has goals of making IFL playoffs

With an increase in numbers and a lot of experience coming back, there are high expectations for the Granite State Panthers football team.

The Independent Football League team, made up of players from Conant, Mascenic and Wilton-Lyndeborough high schools, is entering its fifth year of existence and the goal is to make this the most successful one yet.

A year ago, the Panthers, who will play their home games at Mascenic, were young and depth was an issue. It led to just a one win in IFL play, but having only lost four players from 2012 and seeing the return of one impact player after a season away from the team, the Panthers are ready to make a return trip to the postseason.

“We were very young last year, but got some experience,” said head coach DJ Hutchinson. “Last year was a building block and a learning curve.”

The numbers are slowly getting better and the hope is for even more players to join the team once school gets going this week.

“We’re always looking for more players,” said Hutchinson.

But even with the players currently on the Panthers’ roster, Hutchinson believes his team will improve to the point of battling for a playoff spot.

The IFL is made up of five total teams, including a cooperative high school teams from Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton named the RedHawks, which is widely considered the Panthers’ biggest rival. There are also the Seacoast Titans, Berlin Gladiators and a new team from Canada.

“With the kids we’ve got, I think we can make a playoff run,” said Hutchinson.

Shamus Donovan of Conant returns to the Panthers after playing at St. Bernard’s High School in Fitchburg, Mass. last year. Donovan will take over the quarterback duties vacated by the graduation of Zach Cormier and Hutchinson could not be happier to have Donovan back.

“Shamus is six feet, two and half inches and has the arm and unbelievable size for a quarterback,” said Hutchinson.

Conant junior Josh Stevens and WLC sophomore Dalton Courtemarche take over as the team’s running backs and so far have shown the ability to handle the position.

“We’re very quick in the back field,” said Hutchinson.

On the outside, Mascenic’s Cooper Wayrynen and Michael Phillips will line up as receivers.

“Offensively we’re set. Right now we’re just working out the cobwebs and getting on the same page,” said Hutchinson. “We’re very balanced. We run and pass well.”

The strength on defense will be at the linebacker position, led by Conant junior Justin Haase. Haase will also play guard on the offensive line.

Mascenic sophomore Nick Colasanto will play on both the offensive and defensive lines.

Stevens and Courtemarche will also lineup in the defensive secondary.

“Most of our skilled guys play both ways,” said Hutchinson.

Heading into the Sept. 8 opener at the RedHawks, the Panthers are just trying be in the best possible shape. So far all signs are pointing to a good year.

“Our motto all year has been to play hard and practice harder,” said Hutchinson. “And I’m expecting huge, huge things this year.”

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