In most cases at the developmental football level, first-year teams normally don’t have great first seasons. As a result, some people might be overlooking the Dallas Panthers as a contender in the Minor Professional Football League simply because they’re new.
This could be a huge mistake, because the Panthers aren’t your typical first-year team.
“It’s going to be a fun year,” Panthers owner Charles Thornton told Developmental Football USA. “Being a new team here in North Dallas, we’ve got a lot of new, young talent that guys haven’t heard of, so that’s going to be one of the most fun parts.”
While the Panthers have their share of rookies, they have also inherited several talented players from the outdoor DFW Hawks, who recently closed doors, and the DeSoto Tarantulas, who they’ll play in a pre-season game this Saturday.
“He’s probably going to be the most explosive guy we got,” Thornton said. “He also played with the Wichita Falls Nighthawks when they were a powerhouse.”
The former Big 12 player has been nicknamed “Oklahoma” for obvious reasons. His size and skillset will probably be too much for most teams to handle at this level and he’s not even the only Panthers running back opposing defenses should be concerned about.
“The kid is a monster, but we also got three other backs that can do the same thing,” Panthers head coach Mark Hullum told Developmental Football USA. “We’re pretty solid all around.”
Joining Johnson in the backfield is quarterback Cody Colbath, who is from New Mexico.
“He’s a good guy and he knows his football,” Thornton said.
Colbert will have an outside threat in wide receiver Chris Mills, who was the Receiver of the Year a few years back with the Mesquite Warhawx.
“I think our key players will be our receiving corps,” Hullum said. “Those are very intelligent young men and Chris Mills is going to be a monster for us once we get him acclimated into the system and get everything together. We have at least six receivers and we can put any of them on the field and they can make plays.”
Leading the charge on the offensive line is 6-foot-5, 315-pound Kyle Marley, an Edgewood native who played for Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
Defensive end Ice Bowman is a household name at this level and looks to continue to be a force defensively for the Panthers.
“He’s very aggressive, that’s what I love about him,” Hullum said. “He’s been around about 14 years and he’s still got some years left in him. He still plays like he’s a kid and still gets the job done.”
Joining Bowman on the defensive line is former Dallas Diesel Ernie Story. As if those two aren’t enough to deal with for an offense, it won’t get any easier for a ball-carrier if he manages to make it to the next level.
“I think our main core is going to be our linebacking core,” Hullum said. “Those are the main guys that are going to set the tone for how the game is going to be played for us. We’ve got some young kids, but they are very talented.”
In the secondary, big things are expected out of Michael Trotter at the safety position.
“He’s is a real go-getter, a good cover man, a heavy hitter, he will hit you,” Hullum said. “We got some good cover corners, nothing we are worried about, they are young but they are very coachable.
“Offense and defense, we are young but very, very coachable. That’s when structure comes to a team, is when they are coachable. That’s when you have something special. I wouldn’t trade these guys for no other team.”
Another crucial part of the Panthers that shouldn’t be overlooked is their coaching staff, many of which came over from the North Texas Stampede.
“I was the GM that just left there,” Thornton said. “Me and my coaching staff all left together. Patrick Porter didn’t clean house. It was a misunderstanding of ownership and the head coach didn’t want to lose his staff and he didn’t want the head coach to keep his staff.”
In a preview of the North Texas Stampede, Developmental Football USA was recently told a different side of the story.
“The whole purpose of that team, of us not being there, is that I chose to leave,” Hullum said. “When you have players not structurally sound, players want things their way because the owner let it be that way for years before. It makes it hard to have structure. I’d been there three years with them. I knew the structure was there because everything was my way. The coaches left, but we left on our own terms. Nobody got rid of them, that wasn’t true at all.
“Structure is when a coach has everything go his way, by his way, by his law. Non-structure is listening to the players, letting the players run your team. I don’t let players run me, I run the players.”
Thornton echoed those same general sentiments.
“I don’t see how we had no structure when we made it to the semifinals last year and the championship the year before,” Thornton said.
Thornton believes his reputation history of success at this level also helped the Panthers get into the MPFL as an expansion team.
The two teams won’t get a shot at beating each other until the post-season and right now both teams have pretty good odds of making it there.
“The Stampede are always going to be a known team out there,” Thornton said. “Part of that tradition, part of that Stampede name being out there, I came along doing videos, doing film and that kind of helped get the name out there about the Stampede. That’s some of my proud moments. Yeah, they’re stacked, but they’re not unbeatable.”