While Derby is the defending Class 6A champion, this is a very different football team that won 12 straight and dominated opponents.
Derby, ranked fourth in Class 6A, opens its season Friday night at Maize, which the Panthers beat 62-13 in the third week of last season.
The Panthers have an offense that can be potent and speedy with do-everything athlete Garrett Xanders and transfer running back Curtis Whitten coming out of the backfield. Junior Brady Rust takes over at quarterback after returning to football after a six-month layoff following a basketball injury.
But whether the Panthers will be at the level coach Brandon Clark expects at Maize, which is ranked second in 5A, is another question. As a result, Derby will rely heavily on its defense to hold in check Maize’s high-powered offense, which is led by quarterback Connor Lungwitz and receiver Kendall Stewart.
Derby’s defense is led by senior defensive ends Chase Branstetter, one of two returning starters, and Connor Greibling, along with linebacker Nate Crossman and safety Darreon Jackson.
“They know how talented they are and that they have a ton of weapons,” Clark said. “We call it doing your 1/11th. If you do your 1/11th on offense and defense and special teams, and as long as we’re doing our assignments and doing it with good fundamentals, it’s not like they’re going to be able to score every time or stop us every time.”
Clark and Buhler coach Steve Warner each won their first championships in 2013 — Buhler won 4A.
Even though they are now defending champs, the season’s preparation didn’t change.
“We all want to win every game and be the best team we can be,” Clark said. “Winning a state championship is in the past. It’s time to get better. We treat it like any other year.”
“The excitement is in the air,” he said. “It’s the first game, that (championship run) is in the past. It’s something we’re proud of, but it’s no different.”
The pressure hasn’t changed, either. Clark and Warner said they put enough pressure on themselves that they’re unaffected by outside expectations.
“I think our fans now think, ‘Oh, let’s win it every year.’ I felt a lot of pressure for coaching for 30 years and not winning,” Warner said. “The pressure wasn’t taken off, but satisfaction is there.”