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LECANTO, FL – The cliche saying it all starts up front is literal for the Lecanto Panthers going into the start of summer and practices beginning on August 1st.

When it comes down to what the Panthers will rely on the most coming off a 4-6 campaign in 2021 it is their offensive line. Lecanto head coach Chop Alexander believes, with three key returners back up front on the offensive line along with a slew of skill players, the Panthers should be able to take the next step in a tough 3-Suburban, District 6.

“I think it all starts with our offensive line. This year we have three key returners led by Burke Malmberg, Nathan Lightfoot and Matt Turner,” Alexander said. “Our key skilled positions will consist of Darius Gainer, Donovon Foster, Travis Labelle, Wyatt Diaz, Amir Wilson and Caden Moore.”

Lecanto’s district plays out to being one that could be a toss up amongst five schools that didn’t finish any better than .500 in 2021. River Ridge finished 5-5, with the Panthers at 4-6, Gulf 3-6, Citrus 3-7 and Fivay at 2-8. With a strong showing in the spring, Lecanto has a chance to win the school’s first ever district championship.

“I am very pleased we are in a district that looks to be very even when it comes to competition,” Alexander said. “We still have our work cut out for us, our school has never won a district championship before.

“In the past 40 years, the most wins we’ve ever had is six. We have to overcome the old mentality, we are not supposed to win. I strongly feel this is a team that could be one of the greatest in school history, if we play to our potential.”

A big reason for optimism when it comes to the Panthers is their overall spring performance. Going up against an experienced Nature Coast group that went 8-4 last season, Lecanto held its own and just narrowly lost 26-24. Despite the loss, Alexander was able to take the good with the bad from the spring game.

“I was surprised that our team wasn’t afraid at all,” Alexander said. “Usually anytime we go against powerhouse teams we tend to get defeated before the game even starts. Sorta like the “Mike Tyson effect.” I felt like we had a great plan going into the game and our kids executed their assignment most of the night.”

Summer training has focused more on core strength and cardio conditioning, as Alexander believes that’s one of the reasons Lecanto lost to Nature Coast. As 7-on-7’s, summer weightlifting and conditioning are in full swing, the Panthers seek to capitalize as they look poised to make a run towards a possible district title in the fall.

“This summer we have been focusing a lot on building our core strength,” Alexander added. “We have stepped up our conditioning immensely.”

“I felt that conditioning was the reason we lost our spring game, but I will never have our team step on the field poorly conditioned ever again. The 7-on-7 has been great. The attendance has been great and anyone who comes to see us play in the fall will see a stronger, more disciplined and well conditioned team.”

Andy Villamarzo can be reached at and follow him on Twitter @Andy_Villamarzo.