The Johnston football team has big plans this fall as it returns over 20 seniors and is looking like an early favorite to make a deep run in Division III.
Johnston rebuilt in 2022 and struggled with a 1-6 league record. However, the Panthers return nearly their entire starting lineup and welcomed new faces, which has helped them get off to a strong start this preseason.
“It helps the guys coming back. It allows us to be stronger as a team, especially with the work we’ve put in this offseason. We’ve had a strong offseason, we’ve been in the weight room. Guys are more experienced. Linemen, skill guys, quarterbacks,” said senior captain and quarterback Neari Vasquez, who will be under center for his second year.
Along with Vasquez, the Panthers will also lean on fellow senior captain Steven Finegan as well as other standouts like Dean Paris, Michael Carlino, Dylan Martins, Matt Clements and Cam Walker.
“We’re adding some new stuff to our scheme but we are rolling with it, we’re doing a lot of what we did last year. We’re going to play at a high pace, we’re going to be a fast team on offense,” said Vasquez.
The team is taking it one day at a time, but it recognizes its potential with its depth, experience and versatility.
“We’ve got some depth this year, we have some guys coming back. That depth has also helped speed up the learning process for the young guys, too. It has allowed them to compete with the older guys and learn from them. You never want to say, ‘This is a season where we are going to win it all.’ But, this also isn’t a season that we’re saying, ‘We’re playing a lot of underclassmen so hopefully we can win a few games and make the playoffs.’ This is a team that is built to go the distance. The expectations are high,” said head coach Joe Acciardo.
As the team approaches the regular season, it will look to put its best foot forward and live up to those expectations.
“Hard work and dedication in practices. Us as leaders, we show that we have to put in a lot of hard work and they feed off us. We’ve already seen a lot of growth. We’ve been working hard every day, practicing sometimes for three hours. It’s going to be a better season for us, 100 percent,” said Finegan, who emphasized getting off to a big start. “We’ve got to start off strong, and we will.”