Panthers set sights on return to playoffs

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After two consecutive 2-5, Division II league records, the Johnston High School football team is getting down to some serious business as it prepares for the 2017 campaign with a new attitude, several new assistant coaches and an intense summer camp as it looks forward to a successful season.

The Panthers failed to qualify for the postseason the past two years, something that has not happened in over a decade. They look to turn things around with new enthusiasm and a lot of hard work .

“The kids are working very hard, harder than in recent years and we have high expectations for this season,” said Joe Acciardo, who is entering his 15th season as Johnston head coach. “The workload has been very tough and the tempo in practice is fast. We are working on a fast clip and there is excitement in the drills. The drills we do today remind me of the days of my old coach Tony Centore.”

A new group of assistant coaches join Acciardo’s staff this season, as only JHS Hall of Famer Brian Iafrate returns from the 2016 staff.

“We have always been fortunate to have good coaches in the past,” Acciardo said. “These new coaches are doing a real good job, the intensity level has been up and we are all on the same page. The kids are responding well.”

The new assistant coaches that join Acciardo’s staff are James Cook, Anthony Sasso, Gary Fitzpatrick, Matt Velino, Alex Irace and Mohammed Khalil.

“They are taking a lot of responsibility and have taken ownership of their individual positions,” Acciardo stated.

Acciardo emphasized that all starting positions will have to be earned during these summer sessions.

He said, “No one is locked into a certain position. I told everyone it is like an open casting call. We know who the best workers are and you have to earn that starting position in what has been one of the most intense offseasons we have had in a long time.”

Evin Califano took over the starting quarterback position late in the season last year and helped the Panthers win two of their final three games. Even though Califano has been taking the majority of reps during training camp, Acciardo said that he will have to battle it out with Dylan Lavoie for the starting quarterback position.

Senior Elijah Burgess appears to be the main running back, as the coaches are expecting a lot out of him this year. Ty Harriel, who Acciardo said is always a big hitter on defense, will also be carrying the ball for the Panthers. Acciardo said that Dave Pingitore, Kyle Monteiro, Angel Flores and Alexis Rodrigues are all working hard and could be playing big roles this season.

The Panthers scrimmaged Lincoln, Scituate and Chariho during the last two weeks of August. Acciardo hoped that the scrimmages will help prepare his team for the upcoming season and is looking for everyone to be clicking on all cylinders by the time the season begins.

Acciardo said that all the players should be proud of themselves for making it through this intense training camp.

“These kids should be proud of what they have accomplished in this grueling camp, you should never look back with regret,” Acciardo said. “We are teaching these kids that you can achieve goals more than you think you can. Just to make it through these hot summer sessions should make everyone have pride in themselves in the end – that’s Panther pride! You work your butt off and that is how you earn that pride.”

As for the Panthers’ 2017 schedule,, they will be playing the same teams as they did in 2016, starting tomorrow night at 7:15 p.m. against Division III Burrillville in their annual Injury Fund game at the Boyle Complex in Smithfield in a game that will be only two quarters in length. The Panthers will travel to Woonsocket for a non-league game on Sept. 9 before returning home for their league opener against Coventry on Sept. 15. 

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