The preview story for Greater Spokane League football begins and ends with the Mead Panthers.
If Mead wasn’t part of the conference this fall, there would be an unparalleled balance between the other nine teams. The Panthers appear to be in a class by themselves.
“They have more talent than our team that won a state championship two years ago,” said Ferris coach Jim Sharkey, whose team finished tied atop the conference standings at 8-1 with Mead last year.
Mead coach Sean Carty knew his team would draw preseason respect. But he’s bothered that all fingers are pointing toward the Panthers.
“I don’t know that we’re head and shoulders above everybody else,” Carty said. “I hate having the target on our backs. I see all the usual suspects will be battling things out.”
Mead returns 12 starters. More than anything, though, it’s the quality of the returners that elevate the Panthers above the pack.
The marquee returnee is senior linebacker/tight end Danny Mattingly, who gave the University of Notre Dame an oral commitment this summer. He injured his knee the first day of summer camp in late June, but he’s recovered and ready to go, Carty said.
Mattingly was a defensive co-most valuable player last year. Just one other first team all-league selection is back on defense and that’s Mead senior defensive end/offensive lineman Langston Ward.
Mead returns two first team all-league picks on offense – seniors Davian Barlow (running back) and Dane Crater (lineman).
Barlow rushed for 1,023 yards in league.
The Panthers must replace three-year starter Andy Wetzel at quarterback. Wetzel’s younger brother, Matt, a junior, and senior Gunnar Kayser, a starter at safety last year, are vying for the starting position. It’s likely both will share time early until one emerges. They’ll also share time at safety.
“Athletically it’s a no brainer,” Carty said of the QB job, alluding to the abilities of Kayser, a three-sport athlete. “But Matt runs the offense real well like his brother did.”
Carty knows he’s got the makings of a team that can make a deep run into the state playoffs.
“We’ve got a special group and we hope we can take advantage of it,” Carty said. “(The kids) think they’re going to win it all. We have to work harder than anybody else because all of our opponents are going to have their best games against us. It’s more than talk. We have to make it happen.”