Football preview: Panthers ready to battle for North Suburban title one more time

Panthers coach Jeff Schlieff enters his 20th season with 138 wins and numerous section wins. Will the final season as part of the North Suburban Conference be the one to spur the team through to the state tournament for a fifth time?

Senior captain Eji Ejiya will be a key on both sides of the ball this fall. Photo by Jason Olson

Senior captain Eji Ejiya will be a key on both sides of the ball this fall. Photo by Jason Olson

Defense will continue to be a calling card of Spring Lake Park football, which returns three linebackers including Ejiya with Tyreese Jackson and Richie Toweh on either side. Inside linebacker Antonio Zepeda will be a newcomer to watch along with defensive linemen Adam Klepsa and Drew Fellenz, also juniors. Klepsa, at 5-10, 225 pounds will need to anchor the line if they hope to continue a traditionally strong area. Fellenz will disrupt offenses with his 6-3, 225-pound size.

The Panthers have two tall juniors receivers coming back in 6-4 Aaron Murphy and 6-3 tight end Ryan Amundson. The pair will hope to repeat the success that former receiver Justin Axelson had running the seam in recent seasons and now as part of North Dakota State University.

Senior offensive guard Joey Lee will be leaned on to guide an otherwise inexperienced group into the final season of the North Suburban Conference.

Grant Walter will provide the Panthers with a speedy option. Photo by Bill Jones

Grant Walter will provide the Panthers with a speedy option. Photo by Bill Jones

Schedule (date, opponent) Kick-off is 7 p.m. unless noted

Aug. 29 vs. Mahtomedi
Sept. 6 at Irondale 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 13 at Irondale
Sept. 20 vs. Cooper
Sept. 27 at North St. Paul
Oct. 4 at Glencoe-Silver Lake
Oct. 11 vs. St. Louis Park (Homecoming)
Oct. 16 vs. Benilde-St. Margaret’s
2012: 8-0 (7-0 first place in North Suburban Conference), lost to Totino-Grace 28-6 in Section 4AAAAA championship game.

Captains (name, grade, position)
Eji Ejiya, 12, linebacker, running back
Austin Swenson, 12, quarterback

Returning starters: Eji Ejiya, Austin Swenson and Grant Wolter in the backfield along with 6-4 junior receiver Aaron Murphy. Wolter is coming off a state track entry in the 100-meter dash in June.

Three strengths: Linebackers and running backs. Ejiya comes in with plenty of notoriety after an all-state-level 2012 as the team’s leading rusher and anchor on a very solid defense in 2012. The Panthers return outside linebackers Tyreese Jackson and Richie Toweh on either side of Ejiya.

Things to work on: Inexperience along the offensive and defensive lines might prove difficult to overcome running the style of offense that coach Jeff Schlieff has used in the past.

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