Thirteen starters return, but one significant departure still has 2021 feeling like the start of a new era at Hillcrest.
That’s due to the graduation of Nasir Reynolds, the workhorse running back who amassed more than 4,100 rushing yards and scored 53 touchdowns during the past three seasons — setting multiple school records in the process — before signing with Drake University.
The absence of the diminutive speedster leaves a void that Hillcrest’s returning playmakers must fill as they look to build off last year’s postseason appearance.
Dual-threat quarterback Carter Sido is back after throwing 14 touchdown passes in 11 games last season. So is Reggie Williams, a powerful running back who should play a more prominent role in 2021. Shannon Cruse, who paced the Panthers in catches (20) and touchdown receptions (four), will again give Sido a reliable receiving target.
Hillcrest again will feature a handful of two-way players, as Williams and Cruse are among the top returnees on defense — Williams in the secondary and Cruse at linebacker. Brady Gibson and Jaden Hodge also should contribute at multiple spots.
Depth might be an issue on both sides of scrimmage, although the offensive line will be experienced, with Americo Fuentes, Selvin Maldonado, and Gil Garza leading the way.
Despite a 77-13 loss to eventual state champion Aledo in the bi-district round, last season continued a steady rebuild under fourth-year head coach Jacob Ramon. Boosted by two forfeit victories in district play, Hillcrest snapped a six-year playoff drought and has posted back-to-back winning seasons.