Panthers Receive National Recognition

Members of the 2021 Hartnell Football team gather for a group photo at the conclusion of their award banquet on Dec. 2 in the Hartnell Student Center.
Members of the 2021 Hartnell Football team gather for a group photo at the conclusion of their award banquet on Dec. 2 in the Hartnell Student Center.

Although its 4-6 record this fall has the Hartnell Football program looking ahead to 2022, the team earned the respect of its coaches – and coaches around the country – for high-caliber play despite many challenges.

“I say 5 to 7 snaps different, and you’re an eight-win football team,” Head Coach Matt Collins told his players at their annual awards banquet on Dec. 2 in the Hartnell Student Center. “I’m really proud of that.”

Collins said they had to miss practices because of COVID-19 precautions, experienced injuries in key positions and faced in-game reversals that included costly referee calls.

“But we never quit,” he said. “You guys’ character was amazing.”

Freshman quarterback J.P. Garcia topped the Panthers' recognition list as a member of the All-America Community College First Team Offense and Offensive Player of the Year for the Region II All-California First Team, as well as being named one of two Offensive Most Valuable Players for the Panthers. Garcia, from Aermosallo, Mexico, threw for 2,641 yards and 23 touchdowns in just nine games for the Panthers, finishing among the state leaders in yards for game at 293.4. He also rushed for six touchdowns.

Also on the All-California First Team Offense, selected by coaches around the state, were Hartnell wide receiver Josiah Freeman, running back Payton Flores and offensive lineman Michael Luther, all freshmen.

Freeman, from Soledad High, had 866 yards receiving, averaging 108 yards per game, and 10 touchdowns. He was co-recipient of the team’s Offensive Most Valuable Player award, along with Garcia.

Flores, from Gonzales High, rushed for 731 yards and eight touchdowns, as well as catching 10 passes for 422 yards. He was a unanimous all-state selection and also received team awards as the Thaddaeus Williams Team Most Valuable Player and the Tony Teresa Memorial Most Inspirational Player.

Luther, from Salinas High, also received the team’s “Hog” award as Most Valuable Offensive Lineman.

Two more Panther freshmen named to the All-California First Team were defensive lineman Christian Campos and defensive back Deonte Ferguson. Campos, from Everett Alvarez High, had 41 tackles, 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble. Ferguson, from Towson, Md., was a unanimous selection to the all-state team and led the state by breaking up 16 passes during the season. He also received the Coach Larry Parker Memorial Award as Most Valuable Defensive Back.

Named All-Conference were defensive linemen Robert Brown of Carmel High and Mike Smith, from Joppatowne, Md., who was honorable mention. Brown was also named the team’s Most Valuable Defensive Back.

Other recipients of team awards were:

  • Hitman of the Year: Defensive back Jayson Flores, freshman, Gonzales High.
  • Most Improved: Defensive lineman Eric Hooper, sophomore, Pittsburg, Calif.
  • Bill T. Maker Memorial “Heart of a Panther”: Offensive lineman Killian Grimm, sophomore, Everett Alvarez High.

Collins took time at the Dec. 2 banquet to recognize his assistant coaches: Anthony Romero, offensive line and special teams; Richard Soratos, co-defensive coordinator/defensive line coach; Sean Gomes, wide receivers and special teams assistant; Ivan Ramos, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers; Anthony Santos, defensive backs/special teams assistant; and Ruben Lerma, running backs/special teams.

“You guys bent over backwards, and that’s what I want this group to understand – the meaning of life, and committing to things and finishing things that you start,” he said.

Collins also thanked Hartnell Athletics trainers, counselors and other staff, who all came together to support the team throughout the pandemic and during the season.

Finally, he reminded his players that Hartnell Football will continue to be a team that other coaches “worry about each year.”

“Know that you guys that are coming back – and you guys that are moving on – have a feather in your cap for the heart that you played with, your effort and your ability to show up every day,” he said.