Posted: 11:07 am Monday, May 16th, 2011
By Matt Porter
Note: Welcome to the PBGametime 2011 Spring Football Tour. During our three-week tour, we visit area teams, meet some of the top players and answer the most pressing questions. Today’s stop is Dwyer, where the Panthers have to replace a host of supertalented seniors.
Click below to see the video, and come back at PBGametime.com in the coming days as we make more stops around the area.
It’s a new year, but the same old challenge for Dwyer, which replaces three BCS talents and several other graduated seniors from a team that went deep into the playoffs.
As they did when they lost three top players after the 2009 Class 4A state championship season (Matt Elam, Gerald Christian and Robert Clark signed with Florida), the Panthers need to replace quarterback Jacoby Brissett (Florida), tight end Nick O’Leary (Florida State) and defensive end Curt Maggitt (Tennessee). This year’s team, coming off a loss in the state semifinals, needs to fill plenty of spots aside from last year’s three stars.
They’ll be contending for No. 1 ranking in the Post’s top 10 all season long, but will the Panthers be the same nationally-ranked power they were the last two seasons? Is a return to state out of the question? Here are some key points of emphasis this spring.
Miller, Minns anchor a rebuilding line. Dwyer’s line play will be a point of emphasis this spring. Aside from Maggitt, the Post’s large schools defensive player of the year, the Panthers will miss heart-and-soul defensive tackle Keith Bowers (Maryland), who was the leader of the defense and a stout run-stopper. Quality tackle Daevonte Barnett (Wagner) and end Shubert Bastien (Middle Tennessee State) were big, rangy contributors. “Our defense will be as good as it’s been in the last couple years,” Dwyer coach Jack Daniels said. “Our defense is real talented and physical. It’s just, we don’t have a lot of depth at the tackles.”
Dwyer will need upcoming seniors Patrick Miller and Mike Minns to stay on the field and be productive.
Miller (6-6 3/4, 260, 4.9) will draw plenty of attention as a left tackle and defensive end. Miller has plenty of range and strength and has great footwork and flexibility. He was raw when he transferred to Dwyer from Benjamin two seasons ago but his combo of size and skill has made him an elite, national-level prospect. Miller is currently sidelined with a separated shoulder, which Daniels said was not serious. Miller is expected to play in Dwyer’s May 26 spring game against Palm Bay.
A question mark is Minns, an upcoming senior who transferred from Cardinal Newman after his sophomore year. Minns (6-1, 290) was academically ineligible last season, but should have things in line for this year. If he does, he could be a force at left guard and defensive tackle. He’s physical and moves very well for a player his size. “He can dominate, there’s no doubt,” Daniels said.
Senior-to-be Heath Walker (6-2, 265) should start at center, and sophomore-to-be Daikwon Fuse (6-2, 240) will be the right guard. Defensive end and tight end Malik Brown (6-2, 195), who started as a sophomore at Palm Beach Gardens last year, will get a chance to play both. Upcoming junior Sterling Stanley (5-10, 180 last year) will get a chance at D-tackle.
The Panthers’ linebackers will be strong, with King’s Academy transfer Gage Batten (6-1, 220, 4.62) in the middle. A cerebral, physical ‘backer, Batten will make the calls on D. “I think he’s gonna be a good player,” Daniels said at the start of spring practices. “Just from watching him without pads, filling holes on iso and tackling drills, I can see he’s going to be very physical.”
Faton Bauta (more on him below) looks to start at inside linebacker. Juniors-to-be Anthony Williams, Jared Brown and Evan Harvey are in the mix.
The secondary has two returning starters in rising senior Julian Whigham (corner) and junior Robert Moss (safety). Upcoming sophomore Shawn Boone will play a role.
New face leading the offense. Several players are vying to be the man to replace Jacoby Brissett, the Post’s large schools offensive player of the year and Florida signee. First in line is Bauta, the transfer from Brooklyn (N.Y.) Poly Prep who moved to South Florida in the offseason. He’s big (6-3, 225, 4.78) and rock-solid. Since enrolling in February, coaches and teammates say, Bauta has taken to being a leader, a challenge he readily accepts.
“You’re leaving one family to come to another, and I was definitely close with my old team. So coming down here wasn’t easy,” Bauta said. “Once I got here though, the guys welcomed me with open arms, and I was really excited about that. I’m beginning to see now that I can lead these guys after being down here for three months. It’s huge. I’m glad they’re letting me be a leader for them.”
Bauta was more of a rushing threat last year in Poly Prep’s run-heavy offense, but Daniels said Bauta is comfortable with using his arm more this year. “He’s obviously got a lot of football experience,” Daniels said.
Bobby Puyol, Dwyer’s kicker and backup quarterback last year, is taking reps at QB when he’s not practicing his kicking (his field goal range is 55+ and his kickoffs are 75+). He’s experienced in Dwyer’s offense and would be a good option if Dwyer decides to keep Bauta on defense. “[Puyol] knows how to get the most out of his talent,” Daniels said. Upcoming junior Clay Meister and upcoming sophomore Robbie Nittolo, a transfer from Cardinal Newman, will compete with Puyol and Bauta.
Running back Cortney Lowery, who impressed last year as a sophomore, should be the main ballcarrier.
Replacing power with speed. Dwyer doesn’t have O’Leary’s hands and strength this year, but still has weapons in the passing game. Senior-to-be Wayne Brown, who clocked the fastest 40-yard dash on the team (4.41), will get carries and targets. Top wideout Clint Stephens, who earned plenty of playing time as a freshman last year, runs a 4.46 and looks the be Dwyer’s best big-play receiver. Sophomore-to-be Johnnie Dixon (mid-4.4), another transfer from Cardinal Newman, is unproven but talented. Whigham has size (6-2, 175) and is in the 4.5 range. Malik Brown has good hands and athleticism at tight end.
Dwyer, recruiting beehive. There’s usually someone with a college logo on their polo shirt at Dwyer practices. This year’s signing class probably won’t be as large as last year’s, which sent a school-record nine players to Div. I or I-AA colleges, but plenty of Dwyer players have college interest. A quick rundown of the seniors:
Miller – He’s ranked No. 199 on Rivals’ top 250 of the 2012 class. Plenty of Div. I interest and offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Miami, Notre Dame and South Carolina, among many others. “Everyone who comes through offers him,” Daniels said. Miller’s top three are Auburn, Florida and LSU. Daniels expected Florida State and Miami to make a strong push by season’s end.
Bauta – More than 15 offers; heavy looks as a quarterback in
spread offenses (Utah, Pitt, Vanderbilt, Maryland, West Virginia, UCLA). As a linebacker, Daniels said, “I think he could probably pick a school he wants to go to.” Alabama, Florida and Florida State among others, like Bauta as a linebacker. Bauta, who has offers from Alabama, Miami and South Florida, has not named a favorite. “I’m really keeping my options open, seeing which coaches are where, seeing like, which coaches are going to stay there, who has the best chance of winning the national championship during my four years there. I’m just going to keep my options open,” Bauta said.
Batten – No offers but plenty of looks, including from Auburn, Georgia, Florida, Florida State and Stanford. Harvard is interested because of Batten’s 1370 SAT and 4.1 GPA. Batten said the interest is mutual. “There’s always life after football,” Batten said. “No matter how good you are — linebacker, I’m done, 33, 34, you know? Even if I make it to the league, my body’s not going to last that long. You’ve got 50, 40 more years you’ve got to live without football, so an education could definitely set you up for after that.” Wherever he goes, Batten said he’d like to play in a 4-3 scheme.
Puyol – Offer from Middle Tennessee State; interest from Duke, Florida, Pitt, Purdue, TCU and Vandy.
Minns – Marshall offer; interest from Cincinnati, FIU, Kentucky, LSU, Miami, Samford, USF and Texas A&M.
Whigham – No offers; interest from FAU, Georgia Tech, Harvard, Mississippi State, Nebraska, Northwestern, USF, Texas A&M and Wake Forest.
Reminder that offers are verbal only; seniors can receive written scholarship offers on Sept. 1.
Big tests come quickly. Dwyer won’t have an ESPN game this year, but the Panthers have three big games to start this football fiscal year.
First up is a May 26 spring game against Palm Bay, which beat Dwyer in the spring but received a stomping in the playoffs. Should be a good one.
Dwyer’s kickoff classic at Miami Central should be entertaining. The Rockets are the defending Class 6A state champions.
Neither will compare to the Panthers’ season-opener at Glades Central, one of the most anticipated area matchups, returning after a year hiatus.
The teams were supposed to play last season, but other opportunities got in the way: Dwyer played in the Kirk Herbstreit National Football Kickoff Classic on ESPN, a game sandwiched between Glades Central facing Dallas-Skyline in Daytona Beach and traveling to Texas to play Denison.
Three non-district opponents – Glades Central, Jupiter and Seminole Ridge – begin Dwyer’s regular season. The Panthers go all-District 13-8A from Week 4 on: Spanish River on Sept. 23, followed by West Boca Raton, a bye, Santaluces, Atlantic, Lake Worth and Royal Palm Beach. They travel to Wellington Nov. 11 to end the season.