The Dwyer Panthers are not short on confidence, and the perennial powerhouse is looking to once again stake its claim as Palm Beach County’s top football program.
Coming off an 11-3 season that ended with a 6-5 regional semifinal loss to Doral Academy, the Panthers are returning a talented core of players on both sides of the ball. Last season, Dwyer’s defense held opponents to 9.3 points per game, and the coaching staff will count on that unit to continue to keep teams off the scoreboard.
“This year it’s going to be fun with the talent that we have with our (defensive backs) and our D-Line, and with some of the Division I players that we have,” said Dwyer defensive coordinator Michael Hensley. “We’re going to be fast, hustle and play team ball.”
“We’re looking to have an amazing season and try to be one of the best defenses in the county.”
The players expect the unit to be tops in the county as well, setting the bar high for the upcoming season.
“Our expectation for the defense is that nobody should score on us this year, but stuff happens, so I expect our defense to stay together, respond and fight through adversity,” said defensive back and FAU commit Antavious Lane. “I feel like we should give our offense a lot of chances to score, so we should be scoring a lot of points every game.”
With the offense on board, Dwyer believes they are a team to be reckoned with.
“It’s states or bust for us; the expectations are high,” said offensive lineman Da’Quan Thomas. “We are the best team in Palm Beach County and we’re looking to prove it every night.”
The Panthers will get a chance to do just that, as they begin the season with a gauntlet that includes Park Vista, Atlantic and Glades Central. They will also open against Palm Beach Central on Aug. 17.
“That’s the most important thing, coming out of the gate and being battle-tested,” Hensley said. “Toward the end, if you want to make a playoff or a championship run, you have to be battle-tested.
“There are going to be some highs and some lows, and there is going to be some adversity, but your team and your players have got to know how to go through that, so by making the schedule tough at first, I think it will be good for us to learn that right away.”
The tough schedule gives the Panthers an opportunity to earn bragging rights as the county’s undisputed top team.
“Our schedule says everything for us, so once we’re looking back on the schedule and all the games we played, and you see us 10-0, you’re going to see that we were the best team,” said a smiling Lane. “I’m just speaking it into existence right now.”
He credits the accountability of his teammates as a big reason behind Dwyer’s high expectations.
“We’re going to push each other to do better, because we’re all superstars on the team and we’re all D-I players, but we’ve got to push each other,” Lane said. “Sometimes, when a bunch of D-I players get together, it’s not a good thing, but we’re going to make it a good thing by pushing each other.”
The nucleus of the team is close, with many of the players growing up in the same neighborhoods in Riviera Beach, which allows for an atmosphere conducive to constructive criticism.
“We’ve had a bond since we were kids, and this year is no different,” Lane said. “We’re like family.”
Between the work they’ve done in the offseason, the promising 2017 season and the bond between the players, the Panthers have a singular focus entering the year.
“Orlando in December, that’s all I’m looking forward to,” Lane said of the site of the state championship game.