Superior prepared to defend state championship

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Superior Panthers

  After winning its first state title in 54 years last season, the Superior football program doesn’t expect another 50-plus years to pass before winning another state championship. As a matter of fact, the Panthers are poised to win another championship this season.

  “Last season was historical and a tremendous accomplishment. I am so proud of that group of young men,” said Superior head coach Ryan Palmer, the reigning 1A Coach of the Year. “Winning the state championship is a shared experience that team will celebrate for years to come. 
  “This is a new year, new season, and new team. In our preseason meeting I told the team we can hang our hats on last year’s championship, and say mission accomplished, or we can use that accomplishment as the new standard of excellence, and say we are just getting started. The unanimous response was the latter.

  “Superior football has a motto,” Palmer added. “We don’t rebuild, we reload. Winning the state championship is the goal of the program each year.”

  The Panthers do, in fact, have plenty of talent to reload with, including four seniors and two juniors who are three-year starters.

  Seniors Daniel McConnell (OL/DE), Gabriel Castillo (NT), Gabriel Otero (RB/LB), and Sammy Lopez (WR/DB), along with juniors Adam Navarrette (Off & Def Flex) and Matthew Diaz (RB/LB) are the returning three-year starters. Sophomore center AJ Lara is also a returning starter.

  The Panthers have arguably fielded one of the top two quarterbacks in the conference the last six years in Nicolaus Cruz and Steven Ybarra. This year, sophomore Matthew Cruz will play the most important position on Palmer’s offense. Expect more success at that position, especially considering Cruz’ lineage: he’s the younger brother of Nicolaus, a four-year starter and one of the best to ever wear the Superior uniform.

  Palmer expects four players to make immediate impacts as new starters:  Joshua Marquez, Andrew Martinez, Julian Navarro and Marc Mendoza.

  Experience will be the Panthers greatest strength, not just the number of returning starters but their experience in the playoffs: three semifinals appearances in as many years and two state championship game berths in 2017-18.

  Still, the Panthers have another strength in 2019.

  “Speed will also be a strength of this team,” Palmer shared. “Four skill-position players ran 4.8 seconds 40-yard dashes, or under. I have never coached a team with more than two or three players that ran the 40 under five seconds, let alone 4.8.”

Andy Luberda (1120 Posts)

Andrew Luberda began writing for Copper Area News Publishers (CANP) in February 2013 after working 15 years in Healthcare Financial Management. Andy covers sports for 11 high schools. His stories are published in Copper Basin News, San Manuel Miner and Superior Sun, in addition to the San Tan Valley Daily PRSS and CopperArea websites. Additionally, he has written human interest stories and business profiles. In May 2012, he earned an AAS in Sports Management at Central Arizona College before graduating with a BS in Communication from Arizona State University in 2014. He and his wife, Kelli, have three sons – AJ, Kyle, and Kade.


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