PALESTINE – Many people are expecting the Westwood Panthers to be better in 2020. The question is how much better?
The Panthers open their 2020 football campaign at home against the Carlisle Indians Friday. A team that has what the Westwood football team hopes to build for their program – playoff success.
In 2018, Westwood finished 1-9. 2019? 2-8. Despite what that trend may lead you to believe about this season for Westwood, they want to tell a different story out on the field.
“It's an opportunity to see if we've progressed as much as we think we've had,” head coach Richard Bishop. “We did some decent things in our scrimmage and we're excited to see if that'll carry over into Friday nights.”
It was easy for coach Bishop to sum up the caliber of team they'll face Friday night – “perennial playoff team.” It's a season goal Bishop is still searching for entering his third year with Westwood.
Carlisle is coming off an 8-4 season that was ended in the area round by Harleton, 39-27. It extended their playoff appearance streak that dates back to 2010 under head coach Ricky Baker.
Those season accomplishments aren't unfamiliar to Westwood. They've scrimmaged them the past two years and the Indians have secured back-to-back area championships on Westwood's home field during the postseason the past two years.
Westwood is also familiar with the tandem they have in Carlos DeLeon and Jamion Turner at the quarterback and running back positions.
DeLeon is a dual-threat quarterback who rushed for 1,500 yards and 20 touchdowns, along with 1,400 yards passing and 11 touchdowns in 2019. Turner is a two-way player who is coming off a 1,000-yard, 14 touchdown season while stockpiling 81 tackles on the defensive side of the ball.
It'll be an interesting test for a Panther squad who has shown growth under Bishop's system but will see a new leader under center this year in Coy Elton. He'll still be able to rely on varsity starters Donovan Barrett leading the offensive line and running back Tremelle Rhodes who says he's added 15 pounds of muscle heading into the season.
“Are we ready to take that next step,” Bishop said. “We need to be able to play under pressure situations and closeout close ball games. Carlisle is used to that. They're used to winning. It'll be a good test for us.”
Situational football has been an emphasis for the Panthers in practice. Westwood found themselves in a lot of stressful game situations in 2019 that they fell short in.
The Panthers were fairly young last year. Coach Bishop says there are more confidence and comfort in his players entering year three under him to handle those type of situations this season.
“We're excited for our kids,” Bishop said. “We didn't know if this day might come back in March. We have to enjoy this. We can't take it for granted because it could be the only one we get this year.”
The Panthers kick off at 7:30 p.m. at home against the Indians Friday.