The expectations are to repeat as region champs and, ideally, make some noise in the playoffs after going a perfect 6-0 in the region in 2019.
“We don’t talk about it a lot, but I certainly know it is motivation for the returners with the way it ended leaving a bad taste in their mouths, they ar ready to get rid of that,” Lapsley said.
While Bennett did have 251 of the Panthers’ 450 total carries last year, he can’t, and didn’t, do it alone as part of his team’s run-centered attack.
The Coconino Panthers football team warms up for a September practice at Cromer Stadium.
The Panthers do need to find replacements for Bennett’s running mates in the backfield, having graduated their other six most productive rushers including quarterback Jordan Lucero.
Lapsley noted Manuel Cardoza, one of Coconino’s top options on defense, to be a two-way guy and get some touches out of the backfield. Ryan Seery will handle the QB spot for Coconino.
While there isn’t much experience in the backfield beside Bennett, Lapsley said the senior back has grown into a strong leader for the group.
“His efforts on the field and just his overall work ethic really allows a lot of guys to look next to them and say ‘Holy crud man he’s working this hard and we need to do the same,'” Lapsley said.
Defensively the Panthers return their top three tacklers from 2019 in Cardoza, Jonathan Jaramillo — who could also see some time on offense — and Andy Ruiz. The graduation of Riley Darnell on the defensive line leaves a bit of a whole, but Lapsley isn’t too concerned over that.