WESLACO — The Weslaco Panthers hit the practice field for the first time Monday afternoon thus beginning the Michael Salinas era.
Weslaco has its work cut out for itself with just two starters returning from offense and five returning on the defensive side.
Prior to joining Weslaco, Salinas, who replaced longtime coach Tony Villarreal, spent five seasons at Edinburg Vela and built Vela from the ground up while going 31-5 in the last three years. Salinas brought offensive coordinator Patrick Shelby to Weslaco.
Over the last decade, Panthers fans were accustomed to the Slot-T offense, but now under Salinas the Panthers will run a spread attack.
“The kids showed up excited and ready to work,” said Salinas. “We’re trying to make sure we can control the things we can control and that’s getting better each day. We’re coming out focused and concentrated. I think the kids have adjusted well. As a coaching staff we have challenged them and they’re responding well. We have a lot to do in a short period of time.
Weslaco has yet to name a starting quarterback but running back Michael Martin returns to the backfield while wide receivers Andrew Olguin, Devin Dena and Richard Olszak will take on a larger role in the passing game.
The Panthers’ strength this year will be up front. Richard Carmona and Matthew Lopez will anchor the offensive line, while Tony Estavanes will guide the defensive line. With Jordan Nichols and Diego Rodriguez lost to graduation, junior Marco Noriega and will fill the linebacker roll. Meanwhile, Seth Sanchez and Benito Juarez will fill in along the defensive line.
“The alignments are different so we’re adjusting to the new defensive scheme,” said Sanchez. “Last year we did some good things, but this year we want to cut down on the scoring. We would also like to score more on defense. We’re excited to have Coach Salinas with us. He was successful at Vela and now he’s here with us in Weslaco.”
Salinas believes up front is where Weslaco will make its most improvements from last season.
“We want to come out and lay a solid foundation in the first couple of days,” he said. “Right now we have guys battling for the quarterback position and along the defensive line, and at the linebacker position we have some battles there as well. It’s only our first week but our offensive and defensive line will be our strengths. We do have some youth that will have to grow up quickly, so we do have our work cut out for us.”
“It’s very exciting this year; its defiantly fast tempo,” said Lopez “My role this year as a senior is to help guide the younger guys on how to learn the different sets. The coaches believe in us so we believe in them. Along the O-line we’re excited to block for our quarterback and backs. We trust each other and our goal is get better each day as a team.”