A 3-7 record is obviously not an accomplishment, but Katy Paetow High football coach B.J. Gotte sees the mark as a stepping-stone.

The Panthers were the new kids on the block in 2018. Paetow’s doors were open for roughly a year at the time when it fielded a young and inexperienced varsity squad consisting of primarily sophomores and juniors for the inaugural campaign.

“Our expectations were to compete every week, do the best we can, and grow as a program,” Gotte told Texas Scorecard. “We just wanted to go out and get better every day, compete, and play to the best of our ability.”

Paetow began its debut season by notching the first two wins in school history to finish pre-district play. It then went 1-6 against the competition in Class 5A-2 Region III District 10, with losses against Bryan Rudder High, College Station A&M Consolidated High and Huntsville High having served as key learning moments for the Panthers.

“I was extremely proud with how our kids progressed throughout the year,” Gotte said. “We were playing much better football Weeks 8, 9 and 10 than we were Weeks 1, 2 and 3. It was positive; it was a learning experience for them.”

The Katy Independent School District football program that began with discussions between Gotte, Paetow principal Mindy Dickerson and Dickerson’s secretary in an art room at an elementary campus will march into its sophomore season with 44 returning lettermen, many of whom belong to the first-ever senior class.

“A lot of those kids have great opportunities to grow up at a young age,” Gotte said.

Panthers fans will notice a big change to the offense. Star running back Major Payne, who will be a senior, left the team to pursue other endeavors though he remains enrolled at Paetow.

Senior wide receiver Jonathan Baker will pick up the mantle in Payne’s place. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound Baker established himself as a Panthers legend last year when he won the school’s first state gold medal in the long jump.

“[He’s] a kid we’ll rely on,” Gotte said. “We got high expectations for him.”

Baker caught 13 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns as a junior.

Senior tackle Cameron Gross will anchor the offensive line. Gross will help create holes for two of Payne’s successors in the backfield, junior Damon Bankston and senior Jonathan Jolly.

“[Bankston and Jolly] are going to fill the void that Major left,” Gotte said.

As of this writing, the starting quarterback spot is still up for grabs. Junior Harrison Sager is fresh from an ACL injury sustained during the Montgomery game while sophomore Channing “C.J.” Dumas Jr. looks to impress at the higher level after helming an undefeated freshman squad.

The defense will be led by senior outside linebacker Alex Elko. Elko, who also plays wide receiver, is “kind of our Swiss Army knife,” according to Gotte.

“He’s going to do a little bit of everything,” the coach said. “He’s kind of our leader.” 

Elko’s younger brother, Demetrius, is another vital cog in the trenches.

Co-captaining the defense with the elder Elko will be fellow senior outside linebacker D.J. Mourning. Mourning comes to Paetow from Katy Morton Ranch High. Senior cornerback Dane Presto is another defensive standout from whom Gotte is anticipating solid output.

According to the coach, the 2019 Panthers will be more experienced and more athletic.

“Some of our strengths would be our experience from the returners and then the athleticism from the younger kids … who are going to join those coming back,” he said.

Gotte added that it is the Panthers’ goal to be better than they were last year and earn a playoff berth.

Paetow will open the year against Stafford High on Aug. 30 at 7:30 p.m.

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