St. Pius X Panthers

St. Pius X Panthers

As the St. Pius X Panthers look to make their way back to the top of the TAPPS standings – where they made consecutive state semifinals in 2017 and 2018 – second-year head coach Greg Cranfill knows the climb won’t be without some road bumps.

The Panthers are coming off a 4-4 campaign in a COVID-shortened regular season, which ended with a second-round playoff loss in Cranfill’s first season. But it was an improvement over a 2-9 mark in 2019 – and with his returning personnel, Cranfill thinks there are limitless possibilities.

“We’ve got to build a program that has a next man up mentality so our guys are ready to take on the next challenge put it front of them,” he said.

Option one for the Panthers on offense will be tight end Logan Tanner, a San Diego State commit who amassed 980 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns last season.

Tanner is already a Division I player in many ways, given how multifaceted his game is, Cranfill said.

“He can come in and play that tight end position or slide out and play at the wide receiver spot,” Cranfill said.

However, Cranfill said the Panthers’ main strength on offense will start up front. Alex Gutierrez, Michael Fite and Issa Baba stand out as part of an offensive line that paved the way for 190 yards per game last season.

“We have four returners on the offensive line, and for us it’s all going to start with that,” Cranfill said. “We feel like they’re a pretty talented group, and we’ve got to build on what they can do.

Running behind those stalwarts will primarily be Nethaneel Lolo, who took over late last season and ran for 495 yards and six touchdowns in six games. At quarterback, the Panthers will face a tall task in replacing the graduated Carson Rodgers – now at Texas Wesleyan – in 2021. Fighting for the spot will be juniors Bryce McKeon and Cale Skinner.

“Each have their own positive parts, so what we’re probably going to try and do is use both of them – that’s probably different than what most people are used to seeing,” Cranfill said. “We feel like both of them are talented and can do it. We’re excited about the potential for both of them.”

Defense

For this group, it all starts up front.

Dylan Edwards, Aiden Allen (34 tackles, three sacks) and Hayden Llorens return to anchor the defensive line for the Panthers. The linebacker corps will consist of Burke Battenfield – who led the team in tackles prior to a mid-season injury – on the outside, while TAPPS all-state linebacker Carson Hintz (85 tackles) will man the interior.

SPX has also hired former La Grange defensive coordinator Rusty Cauthern, who Cranfill said has brought a major boost to the unit.

“We’re better right now than where we ended up last year, and we’ve still got room for growth. Hiring him was a huge impact for this program,” he said. “You’re going to see a defense that flies around, and I’m really excited about that.”

SPX kicks off its season on Aug. 27 at 7 p.m. against Lutheran High North.

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