Gateway Head Coach Marlin Roberts makes no bones about. The success of his team in 2019 will rely on the considerable abilities of senior RB/DB Philip Bangura.
“No doubt, we have relied on him a lot the last couple of seasons and nothing changes this year,” Roberts says about his rising senior that led his team in both rushing (1369 yards, 19 touchdowns) and receiving (12 receptions, 264 yards, 4 touchdowns) on offense; while starting at defensive back. “He’s a great running back with great vision. Obviously, we are going to look at him to provide both offense and team leadership for our really young team.”
Gateway will be playing in both a different district and classification this season. That is due in part to the opening of the new Tohopekaliga High School last year. Due to rezoning, Gateway’s enrollment dropped from 2,400 to 1,500 students – as the Panthers will drop down to Class 6A this year, after qualifying for the state playoffs last season in Class 8A. They will compete in District 9.
“Whenever you lose that many students, it only stands to reason that you are going to lose a proportionate amount of athletes,” Roberts noted. “Losing that many students has not only had an effect on football but our whole athletic program.”
In its new district, Gateway will compete with Heritage, Lake Gibson, Bayside and Auburndale.
“Even though we are dropping down a couple of classes, the competition in this district will be tough. Heritage won the district last year with a 5-0 record, but all those teams have solid programs,” Roberts added.
Teaming with Bangura in the backfield will be junior quarterback Jerry Wright, who takes over for departed senior Maurice Adams.
“Jerry is not a big kid, but he’s a good athlete and he’s smart. One of the things I was most impressed about in spring football is that he had a great understanding of what we were trying to do that’s always half the battle.”
A pair of seniors will anchor the lines for the Panthers. Seniors Kyjaun Allen (6-0, 255) and Finau Fine (6-5, 240) were both stalwarts on the Gateway line last year. Jared Colon is potential standout at guard.
“Unfortunately we don’t have a lot of depth and we are going to need a lot of our linemen to go both ways,” Robert said. “Hopefully we will have some younger guys step up and give us some numbers on the line.”
With the departure of senior WR and team captain Tyreek Robinson, Roberts is hopeful that Marquel Mitchell can step in and provide some offense.
“He’s a little guy but he has some speed and shown some promise,” he said.
In addition to school redistricting limiting the number of participants, Gateway will be without one of its best defensive players as LB Hunter Napczyk dislocated an elbow in spring football and required surgery. Best case scenario will be a mid-October return.
“He’s a gamer and the heart of our defense and we certainly will miss him early in the season. Hopefully he can get back in October but again it’s another hole we will have to fill,” Roberts said.
In the defensive backfield, Bangura will start at one corner; while two freshmen will battle for the other starting spot in training camp. Jeremiah Hughes, another incoming freshman, has already been penciled in starting safety.
The Panthers will be thrown into the fire early, when they will play perennial power Lake Nona in a non-counting kickoff classic on August 18.
“Depth is certainly going to be an issue for us this year,” Roberts, who is starting his 11th season as head coach, added. “Not counting on whatever freshmen decide to come out, we are looking at only having 30 or 35 kids when camp opens on
July 29. Avoiding serious injuries is going to be important for us.”