BELGRADE — No more excuses.
That’s the motto the Belgrade Panthers are sticking to as they prepare for their third season in AA. Since making the jump in 2019, the program is 1-11 through two seasons, but this year the Panthers are determined to flip the script.
"We were 0-5 last year, and in our first year in AA we only had one win, but that excuse is gone," Belgrade head football coach Eric Kinnaman said. "We have to wipe that excuse from the plate and we’re just like everybody else."
2020 was a winless season for the Panthers going 0-5 in Eastern AA. It’s a record that’s left a bitter taste in the program’s mouth, but with 21 returning seniors, Belgrade is hoping to make a statement in the division this fall.
“A lot of those kids played last year and their playing time came up at the varsity level," Kinnaman explained. "They have game-time experience. We only had 8 seniors last year, so a lot of these seniors have seen game time and their leadership is going to be invaluable. Being able to understand what the coaches want, understand the game speed, understand just everything - the ins and outs of what it takes to win a ball game.”
“It really helps with experience, and it also helps with depth," senior wide receiver Ta’Veus Randle added. "We can rotate a lot of players in and out, so it will definitely help having a lot of seniors.”
Depth is key with Belgrade’s new approach this fall.
“One thing we have been trying to do as a coaching staff is kind of split things up a little bit better instead of having five offensive linemen that play both offense and defense," Kinnaman explained. "We have to get away from that. A lot of these AA teams - they play one way. They play offense or they play defense. Some of your really good players - your better players - will play both ways.”
Austin Spangler will be one of those guys this season splitting time at linebacker, tight end, and quarterback where he’ll facilitate the Panther’s new spread offense.
“We’re more spread out," Randle explained. "We do a lot more passing plays this year, so it’s nice for being a wide receiver.”
“I’m really excited to finally get back out on the field and play with all my friends and teammates," senior quarterback Austin Spangler added.
The Panthers will kick off their season on the road this Friday, Aug. 27 against Glacier.