Panthers face large rebuild to keep streak alive
Stars and Stripes September 8, 2023
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin uses the mantra “The standard is the standard.”
Another black-and-yellow clad squad, Stuttgart, has won three consecutive DODEA Division I European titles by using the same concept and not losing a game over that span. The Panthers plan to keep it that way.
“We got to come back, ready to eat,” senior center Daniel Myrick said. “We always got to come back and start from scratch, be like, ‘This is the standard – we got to meet it. If we don’t meet it, we’re not going to win again.’ It’s simple.”
Not so simple is how the Panthers plan to live up to that standard.
Stuttgart lost a group of more than 20 seniors, many of whom had been with the program for four years. Among that group were quarterback Caiden Ray, a first-team DODEA all-Europe selection, and running back Trenton Jackson, who ran through his way defenses en route to a spot on an NCAA Division I roster.
Also gone is coach Bill Ratcliff. In steps Antoine Reed, the JV coach last year. The Panthers also have a new offensive coordinator with new terminology for the players to learn.
“A challenge, but I’m up for the challenge,” Reed said of taking over the program. “We got a huge support system over here in Stuttgart. The transition’s real easy.”
The top two offensive stars aren’t the only ones needing replacement.
While Myrick has multiple years’ experience snapping the ball, the rest of the offensive line is young, as is the defensive line. The receiver corps has just one returner in Jace Holmes, the losses of Ian Lewis and others leave a void in the secondary and the hole at linebacker left by Jackson and Marcel Mailey also is large.
Last year’s backup, junior Ty Jones, steps under center. Senior Jack Gruver leads a group looking to take over at running back.
“We just work with what we have,” said Myrick, who also will play inside linebacker on defense. “We apply the concepts that we learn, and we try to apply them to whatever we have, whatever we’re dealt, whatever hand we’re given.”
Not only is Stuttgart filling in the positions, but it also needs a new leadership group.
Reed said he believes this year’s seniors are stepping into the roles well. He pointed to Myrick and fellow senior Aiden Heumphreus, who spearheaded offseason conditioning efforts.
“This year’s a whole new leadership team,” said senior wide receiver/free safety Gabe Tamez, who’s set to lead the defense. “Some of the players are a little upset about (losing so many players), but I think we can still get the job done.
“The players that have stepped up have been really good and they’ve been really consistent with making sure everyone plays the best for as long as they can.”
A Week 1 date at rival Ramstein will show if Stuttgart can live up to its standard. It’s one of two trips to the Kaiserslautern Military Community and one of three away games during the regular season. Also included is the long journey to Lakenheath on Sept. 22.
No matter the upheaval in personnel, Reed said his team will be prepared to hit the ground running Sept. 8.
“When you come back in, you want everything how it used to be, but you got a whole group of new guys coming in, a couple younger guys coming up from JV,” Reed said. “We’re going to be ready either way it goes.”