MEDFORD -- The South Medford Panthers came within minutes of the first football state title in school history last season, but fell to Clackamas in the closing seconds at Reser Stadium, 32-31. When the final horn sounded, 20 starters' careers came to an end.
The Panthers return just two starters from a season ago, meaning there will be 20 new faces filling starting shoes in 2018. Most notably, the team will replace QB Robbie Patterson, RB/LB Jaylin Parnell, WR Chase Cota, WR Jaalen Owens, and the entire offensive line.
Strangely, the Panthers will have 21 seniors on the team, but almost none of them have played in crunch time of a varsity game. Still, their first three years in the program help eliminate some of the learning curve.
"Even though they haven't had much varsity experience as starters, they have played in back-up roles," head coach Bill Singler said, "They've played a lot as J.V. starters and so they have a lot of playing experience."
With so much senior talent on last year's team, most of this year's seniors missed out on meaningful playing time a year ago. Now that it's finally their time to shine, they don't plan on wasting their moment in the spotlight.
"Some of the guys feel like it's their chance to shine," senior running back Terrence Butler said, "There are some guys that played on defense that are definitely going to step up and it's definitely their time to show what they have."
Linebacker Cole Boster is stuck in the middle between two identities: a starter on last year's team that reached the state title game, and a leader who must guide the new-look Panthers into the program's next phase. He sees his identity as a little bit of both.
"I'd say I fall in as trying to lead the hunger, lead the pack, trying to get everyone on board," Boster said, "Hopefully people are trying to look up to me. I'm also trying to look to others for new ideas and inspiration."
And while the faces might be new, the process will be the same. You'll still see Panther football on Friday nights; while the team may not have as much overall talent, the new Panthers will be ready August 31.
"There might be some drop off, sure," Singler said, "We're not going to be as talent-laden as we were, but our cupboard's not bare. We still have some pretty good players around here. Our kids are well-coached and they know how to compete."