AYER -- Ayer-Shirley's largest challenge this year will be its lack of depth, but that is not uncommon for the Panthers. Billy Wright takes over the Panthers' program after former head coach Jason Rivers resigned after a 1-10 finish in his first season.
The attitude around Panthers camp is upbeat, confident and ready.
"We looked pretty good in the early scrimmages," senior captain and quarterback Zak Walker said. "We are moving the ball well and stopped them defensively, which is a little different than last year. I think we look good."
Ryan Richard and Anthony Burwell are the Panthers' other two captains. They both have quickly bought into the new system coach Wright and his staff have set in place. The All-Star offensive tackle, Burwell, is looking to put the team's 1-10 season behind him and make 2013 a season to remember.
"We just want to have a better season than last year," Burwell said. "Last year, not everybody committed a lot or really cared. This year we've got the leadership and the players who want to win. Our goal is win and get to the playoffs."
Burwell's goals for the season are team-oriented, as the veteran hopes his comrades on the line will play tough and help blaze a path for the backs.
One of those ball carriers is senior co-captain, Ryan Richard, who is making the transition from tight-end to fullback this fall.
"Awesome, it is my dream come true," said a smiling Richard. "I played fullback before in Broncos and J.V. We're not in the spread as much. We're running the ball, pushing it up the field more. We are all working as a team, so we're going to get some wins this year."
Wright cited Richard's athletic ability as his reason for moving the former end to the fullback position.
"It is a work in progress," the coach said. "He hits the hole hard, but we got him down. Once he gets his bell rung once or twice, or hit standing up, he'll understand what we're telling him. "If the offensive line can mesh together, we'll be OK."
On the offensive line for the Panthers will be left tackle Josh Thomas, guard DJ Richard, center Jason Boutilier, guard Bobby Lawton and Burwell.
Walker was quick to jokingly throw his fullback under the bus when asked about his adaptability in learning the new position.
"His jersey gets a little sweaty sometimes, so it's hard," joked Walker. "There's a lot of loose balls. He needs to get a towel or bring a few jerseys to practice."
All joking aside, the Panthers are looking more fierce than ever, but having just 38 bodies on the roster will be a true test for Wright in his first season as head coach.
"It has come together pretty good," Wright said. "We had two tri-scrimmages and I thought we played pretty well offensively. We are tweaking things as we go. Defensively, I like the job we are doing. We are very aggressive. We have eight kids to the ball all the time."
Senior outside linebacker Kyle Levansailor is the defensive signal caller for the Panthers. Junior Alex Walker is an unsung leader for the Panthers defensively.
"I have my captains but everything goes through (outside linebacker) Alex Walker," Wright said. "He is my most aggressive kid, and my best tackler. We have athletes that run to the ball. Our tackling hasn't been the best, but that's what we have been working on the last week."
At the wide-receiver position, sophomore Daniel Goldstein and junior Tyler Mayo will catch the majority of the passes for the Panthers along with backs junior Dre Carmona, Richard and Alex Walker.
"The philosophy is to try to keep it light, simple and keep the kids in the program," the coach said. "That's the name of the game in a small school like this. They ran the spread completely last year. We will try to integrate a little bit of that, option and power, as well."
Ayer-Shirley opens its season on the road tomorrow at 2 p.m. against Tyngsboro.