O’Fallon senior Mason Hewitt knows he has big shoes to fill with the graduation of record-breaking running back Kentrail Moran, now of the University of New Mexico Lobos.
But with a solid cast of returning starters surrounding him, he believes he’ll hit the ground running.
“Kentrail leaves some pretty big shoes to fill, but I feel like I can do it and maybe get close to his rushing records,” said Hewitt, who averaged 5.8 yards over 45 carries last season. “I’ve been playing with most of these linemen for about 10 years or so and then we have three seniors and three juniors so we should be pretty solid up front this year.
“(Quarterback) Christian Perez has had a year of experience at varsity so he’ll be good this year.”
O’Fallon coach Brandon Joggerst, in his 10th year, tends to agree. The Panthers lost some firepower in Moran and All-American kicker Tucker McCann, now at Missouri, but bring a lot of talent back from a team that finished 5-5 with a playoff berth after starting the season 0-4.
“I like to think we’ve got some fire power back,” Joggerst said. “Our expectation isn’t only to get to the playoffs but to win some games in the playoffs. We’ve got some pieces in there if we can avoid injury and get some kids to the point of development which we think they will during the season, we think we’ll compete.”
Perez (45-of-129, 487 yards, seven TDs, 11 interceptions) took some lumps as a sophomore starter at quarterback but will be much improved by his Southwestern Conference experience.
“He’s making better reads, throwing the ball better and is a student of the game,” Joggerst said. “He expects a lot of himself and we expect a lot from him, too.”
Perez throws to an experienced crew of wide receivers that includes Ronnie Anthony (six catches, 92 yards, three TDs), Darryl Cobb Jr. (seven catches, 102 yards), Deion Norfleet (six catches, 125 yards).
Last season’s offensive line also remains mostly intact with center Robert Hayes and guards Ryan Sedlacek and Dalton Brooks. Braydon Johnson, Malik Giddens, and Deandre Crawley will rotate through the tackle positions.
Jarvus Smith returns at tight end.
Ryan Murfield (21 tackles, fumble recovery), Brian Ahle will anchor the defensive front with competition among others for playing time.
Cobb and Norfleet will man the corners while Herm Rich (29 tackles, fumble recovery), Montrail Clay (five tackles, one sack) and Robert Gonzalez bring depth at safety.
Zane Roe (38 tackles, two sacks) will return as the quarterback of the Panthers defense as an inside linebacker.
“We expect big things from him,” Joggerst said. “He’s fast, physical and a vocal leader. He has all the attributes that we like.”
Richard Cosey (22 tackles, four sacks) and Patrick Berry will be the outside linebackers with an assist from Hewitt, who was among team leaders last year with 42 tackles.
McCann set the state record with a 60-yard field goal as a junior two years ago. Who will replace him?
“Good question, “ said Joggerst.
Brooks Hackney, Noah Tennlado and Kevin Jolani are fighting for the chance.
Sept. 2 Normal Community West 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 Belleville West 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 at Edwardsville 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 Alton 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 at Granite City 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 at Collinsville 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 Belleville East 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 East St. Louis 7 p.m.
at Hinsdale Central L 41-14
at Benet Academy L 41-3
at Belleville West L 13-12
Edwardsville L 24-10
at Alton W 42-7
Granite City W 42-12
Collinsville W 22-6
at Belleville East W 38-28
at East St. Louis W 2-0
at Homewood-Flossmoor L 55-17