The St. Pius X Panthers football team is coming off their first state semifinals appearance since 2009 and head coach Stephen Hill believes the Panthers will compete for a state title again this season. The 2015 season ended in a loss to Bishop Dunne in a 42-28 game that was an intense and emotional battle and the Panthers will benefit from that experience this year. To prepare for a run at a district championship, nurse Coach Hill has scheduled a very competitive non-district lineup that includes a game in Las Vegas against Faith Lutheran to open the season.
Also included are matchups with Sealy, malady Worthing, viagra Little Cypress-Mauriceville, Bryan Rudder, and another long road trip to Levelland. All of these games are on the schedule to help the Panthers compete, improve, and finally get another district championship. The last five titles have been decided in the last week of the season in the annual St. Thomas rivalry game. St. Thomas has won each of the five games and the Panthers faithful want to secure the number one seed out of District 3 this year.
St. Pius X will be loaded with experienced, offensive weapons to help the quest for district supremacy. Leading the offense will be sophomore Grant Gunnell. The highly touted quarterback started for the Panthers last season beginning in district play after Clay Roberts was injured and has done nothing but impress opponents and coaches. Some even called Gunnell the best freshman QB prospect in the country after last season and has already received offers from the likes of Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, and Florida State.
Also returning for Pius are all-district running back, junior Alec Harris and sophomore, all-district receiver J.J. Jefferson (Rice offer). The Panthers will need to find a replacement at outside receiver for Nick Minkoff (Trinity) and senior Dylan Johnson is most likely to fill that role. The offensive line, hit hard by graduation, is a work in progress going into fall camp and will be anchored by center Raymond Claiborne, who replaces Reese Forest (West Texas A&M). The other four spots are open for competition among six players who could fill those positions.
The Panthers defense sees the most experience return and should be the strength for the Panthers going into week 1. Four year letter winner Bracy Webb will move to defensive end from tackle and Jacob Craig moves from the o-line to the other end position. Webb was an all-state selection in 2015 and holds college offers from Air Force, Army, and Northern Colorado.
The linebacker position is deep and sees seniors McKamri Bowie and Alec Kenda return. In the mix there will be another senior, Parker Johnson, in addition to sophomores Levi Marion and Bruno Foresteri. The secondary for St. Pius is also loaded. Aryton Payne is back as are Josh Perry and Perry Carter, all seniors. Payne finished 2015 with 128 tackles, 5 interceptions, and also won 2nd in the state 200 meters. Payne is committed to Army while Carter is an all-state award winner and holds offers from SFA, TSU, and Prairie View.
Going into 2016, the Panthers will be expected to compete with St. Thomas for the district championship. The Panthers will aim to break the streak of 8 consecutive state titles won by schools in District 1. Protecting the talented quarterback is extremely important, and if SPX can get their offensive line set and playing well together, the Panthers should see another deep run in the playoffs come November.