Panthers football more than a dream
After 20 years of coaching and a number of championships of my own, I can without reservation stay it is official, “The Guam High School (GHS) Panthers football program is here to stay.”
It has been my pleasure to watch and be a part of the transformation of Panther football. Back in 2006-2007 when I first arrived on island you had a group of kids playing football. Coach Brandon Miller brought in the concept of football players being student athletes and the importance of being a team, mind you at the time they were still going to school up at, “The Hill,” the new home of the Joint Region Marianas Headquarters. It was a far cry from what is today. Back then students were in class there and the football team practiced on the 20-by-40 yard sections of mostly coral-free grass in the back of the building. There we laid the foundation for future success by starting the first ever weight training program.
When we moved to the new building in Agana Heights, the Panthers were still without a home field because although the new school was ready the football field was not. Miller worked with the Navy command and secured more weights and personally hauled weights to make a small but effective gym. After all of this hard work and effort, he was rewarded with, the highest finish up until that time, a third place victory over the George Washington (GW) High School Geckos on their home turf.
I left along with Miller after that season knowing that we had established a true team spirit. But more importantly we had mentored a young offensive coordinator named Kenny Williams, who we both knew had what it took to win a championship because he was hardworking, humble and a student of the game. He would just need a strong defensive coach to help him accomplish what we both knew was inevitable. In comes Coach Billy Henry, an experienced defensive-minded coach with tons of experience.
Their first year together in 2009 they repeated the success of the year prior. Then the stars lined up for the Panthers at the start of the 2010 summer camp. A group of monster offensive linemen aka “Big Nasties,” emerged out the weight rooms of the off-season.
Devon Jacobs (the best offensive player who ever played on this island), Paul Floyd, moved over from middle linebacker to quarterback, to date the best quarterback we have had, LJ (current GHS quarterback) is nipping at his heals for that honor though and I returned to Guam fresh off of capturing another championship in Virginia. I looked at that group that we had assembled the first day of practice and I told them that I could smell champions then I named them the “Dirty Thirty.”
True to form we won the championship on the back of that massive offensive line that was comprised of young men with nicknames like Rhino, Big Sexy, Tank, Chocolate Thunder and T-Rock. We won it all, we were champions, we were a team. But a team does not equal long term success, for that you need a program. At the heart of any long-term successful program there is mentoring from player-to-player and coach-to-coach.
The next year 2011 I took over as head coach. The then much heralded offensive line had graduated and no one expected us to do much based on the number of seniors we lost. But that is where mentoring pays off. Players remembered the lessons learned from teammates on the sidelines in the space of a 33-second mentoring conversation before coach calls you back into the game. We made our way back to the championship but fell short to a strong GW team. We lost more seniors last year, with our three standout losses coming in the form of bookend Theatris Eaton and Nijjee Smith, DJ Cruz, pound for pound one of the toughest runners I have ever seen, and Matthew Eaton, a sophomore 6’4” receiver who will most certainly go play division one football back in the states. We were thought to be back in the cellar by most, to the point that this year when we faced GW, seven out of the eight pigskin prognosticators from the local paper picked GW over us.
They did not know about our secret weapons, mentoring and Panther Nation (dedicated moms and dads). I brought DJ Cruz to speak to the players about what takes to win. Is he and effective speaker you wonder? Currently, we are 5-0 ranked number one on island and in the top three in the Pacific region, you be the judge.
Finally we flew to Okinawa this past weekend with the support of Panther Nation, namely Mamma Brown,( I don’t think she has a first name), Mrs. Jacobs and Mr. Domingo who all paid out of their own pocket to fly down ahead of us to set up and ensure that we had everything that we needed for the players. We did something that has never been done in school history. We beat another Department of Defense school.
We are a program. We are GHS.