The senior class of Fort Zumwalt North Varsity Panthers
For the Fort Zumwalt North Panthers and coach Joe Bacon, it’s all about time.
“We harp on the fact who is going to be better for that 2 1/2-hour window on Friday or Saturday,” Bacon said. “We’ve been better an awful lot of the time.”
In the last five years, the Panthers have an impressive 55-8 record. They have played in a Class 5 state championship game and one semifinal game. Fort Zumwalt North also reached three quarterfinal games in that span.
“We’ve had some good kids coming through,” said Bacon, who is 84-38 in 11 seasons at the helm. “It took a while to get rolling through the first few years. Guys had to buy in to what we were doing. Those first few years, the transition was pretty tough.
“We changed the offense and it just took a while. We’ve always had great kids. It wasn’t reflected on the scoreboard but kids did things the right way and helped lay the foundation to what we have here.”
In his first year, the Panthers moved from Class 4 to Class 5. That was a big change.
“Making that step up was heads and shoulders above what we were playing,” Bacon said. “That was the 2008 season. It was a rude awaking for us. It took a while to get traction. I felt like after two more years were going in right directions.
“Our middle and lower tier players had improved. I’d gotten better as a coach. I felt like top to bottom we had better understanding of what we do.”
A highlight was reaching the state championship. The Panthers finished 12-2. After Week 1 loss to Ladue, Fort Zumwalt North didn’t lose again until the title game against Vianney.
“I feel like the last several years, our team been at the same level. We play our best in big games,” Bacon said. “We didn’t bring our best game out last year against Battle. The state finals year was our best season.
“You want to get back once you’ve been there. You don’t want to get stomped. It would be nice to get back.”
Last season, the Panthers went 10-2. They won the Gateway Athletic Conference Central Division championship. The Panthers won the Class 5, District 3 championship game, beating beat McCluer North 43-18. An old nemesis Battle stopped Fort Zumwalt North 26-14 in the quarterfinals.
That was then. Now, the Panthers are looking to play in 2019.
“New players. New challenges. New season,” Bacon said.
They are eight starters back on offense. The defense returns five starters.
“We have a significant number of holes to fill on defense due to a strong senior class that just graduated,” Bacons said. “With that many new players it will be a challenge getting them all on the same page and working well together as a unit, but fortunately our new players have proven themselves to be very selfless and committed to becoming the best team they can possibly be.”
This year’s group of Panthers have been working hard in practice to get ready for the season, Bacon said. It all began when offseason workouts started.
“We made gains in the weight room. That’s really exciting” Bacon said. “We put in our time to get us ready for this season.”
The entire whole offense line is returning for the Panthers. The team likes running the spread offense.
Bacon has the players to make the offense work.
“We’ve been blessed to have six guys on offense that are weapons for us,” Bacon said. “We’ve got several guys who get involved. They really enjoy it. We have good team speed again this year.
“Those are things we can work with. The biggest thing for us is to be grinding. Toughness has been lost from our sport. We’re physical. That’s a huge advantage, even more so these days. That’s something we’ll try and lean on.”
Fort Zumwalt North opens the season on the road at Francis Howell.
“Howell will test us to the max,” Bacon said.
Following that, the Panthers will be home Sept. 6 to play Fort Zumwalt West and then play Sept. 13 at Parkway Central.
“We’ll find out how good we are after those three non-conference games,” Bacon said. “They’ll all be tough games. I know we’ll know a lot about ourselves after get through that gauntlet. We have to be ready to play.
“There are some great teams on our schedule this year but the stiffest competition we will face on a week to week basis will be ourselves. How close to perfection can we play? How focused will we be when our bodies are exhausted? How firmly will we hold to our standards when we’re not playing well or we find ourselves in a hole? If we get positive answers to all the questions above we are capable of doing some great things this coming season.”
His Panthers are eager to hit the gridiron, Bacon said.
“They’re ready to play. I’m not,” Bacon quipped. “I’d like four more weeks of practice. The want to play tomorrow. They’re all good kids. They work hard. They’re coachable. They’re fun to work with.
“We want to play great football every week. We have been able to consistently play at a high level over the last several years and our boys are determined to do whatever they can to keep that streak going. If we worked hard this past offseason and we execute at a high level on Friday nights, we should be able to compete for another conference and district title and give ourselves the opportunity to keep playing through November.”