LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) – The Lufkin Panthers have had a few disappointing endings to their last few seasons as they try to find their way back to the state championship round.
Their last state title was in 2001. They face starting this season still wondering about several key starting positions and that raises questions as to whether or not this traditional powerhouse is ready to run deep.
Seasoned head coach John Outlaw is taking it all in stride. He says despite the holes in their team, they are ready to win. "People say, 'Who's the quarterback?' I don't know. I'll answer that question when we get ready to play our first district game. I don't have any scholarships to go get some junior college guy, so we are going to play with those three and we will win with those three."
After a second straight season that saw an early playoff exit and a loss to their fierce rivals, The Woodlands Highlanders, team leaders past and present say it will be different in 2011.
"I'm looking forward to the Woodlands game, I'm tired of losing to them. It burned us pretty deep. We are tired of losing in the first round," said Tyler Wright, linebacker.
"I remember when we lost first round my junior year. I'm pretty sure they got a chip on their shoulder right now so I'm pretty sure they won't lose out first round this year," said former Panther running back, Javorskie Lane.
The Panthers have only 4 home games on the schedule this season, but you can bet each one of them will be filled with fans backing the pack at Abe Martin. "It don't matter whether if it is a kid or a coach you feed off of people up there screaming and hollering. Whether it is at UT or A&M, or it is here at Lufkin High School," observed Outlaw.
"Friday nights they get pretty loud especially on a big game. They get in there and let us know that they have our back all the way," added Wright.
Outlaw has an ever growing list of athletes that have signed to college scholarships and that is something he takes pride in. "We've done a good job of marketing our kids and helping our kids both academically and athletically. It opens up a lot of doors that otherwise wouldn't open."
He has been quoted as saying defensive linemen Tomme Mark could be special, coming from a coach who has signed 176 students to scholarships, that really means something. "I have a chance to go play D-1 college football. Growing up I used to play PS3 and x-Box wishing I could play college football on my favorite team. Now, after all the hard work I did, I finally get that chance," said Mark.
Mark will look to lead a defense that may carry a bigger burden this season. With Bush Smiley gone, the offense is in for a rebuilding.
Coach Outlaw says he is not worried about the pressure, but how his team will respond. "Pressure is when you don't have enough money to pay your bills at the end of the month. I try to tell everybody I don't know what kind of team we are going to have until I find out how they act when we are behind."
With the entire town of Lufkin behind them, the Pack looks to make a run for their second state title.