PITTSBURG — For a program as dominant as St. Mary’s Colgan, it’s not good enough just to make the playoffs anymore. The Panthers are all about state championships.

During their long history, Colgan has captured seven state titles in the sport of football. Yet, it has been quite some time since the Panthers have reached that level … 16 years to be exact since claiming their last crown in 2003.

This may just be Colgan’s year under second-year head coach Shawn Seematter, who will be directing an experienced Panther squad following a 9-3 campaign a year ago.

A year ago, SMC opened the season with three straight wins before dropping consecutive outings to Centralia and Abilene. The Panthers responded by winning all three games in Class 1A-District 1  and then ran off wins over Leon-Bluestem, Hillsboro and Jackson Heights to open up the postseason. Their run eventually came short of a state championship with a 14-0 loss to Olpe in the sub-state round.

“All of our incoming seniors have played meaningful minutes last year as juniors,” Seematter said. “They will be looked upon to step in and fill the void of last year’s seniors. This senior class has played in a sub-state championship game and a state championship game. They have played in huge playoff games and know what it takes to compete at a high level.”

Colgan will have to fill some holes left by the departures of eight seniors from last year’s squad due to graduation. But the cupboard is hardly bare for the Panthers with the return of four seniors and four juniors to the starting lineup. That includes All-CNC Second Team defensive back senior Andrew Lomshek, who also plays tight end; as well as all-league Honorable Mentions in senior Garrett Evans on the defensive line and Derek VanBecelaere at linebacker. Evans will also be on the offensive line, while VanBecelaere will spend time at running back.

Other returning starters include senior Johnny Getting (offensive/defensive line), as well as juniors Kannon Keller (tight end/linebacker), Domenic Bevilacqua (running back/defensive line), Gianni Piccini (defensive back) and Blaise Dawson (safety).

Joining that group will be some other key returning players such as senior Colin O’Brien (offensive/defensive line); juniors Janko Kalan (defensive back/wide receiver) and Taylor Torrance (offensive/defensive line); and sophomores Jalen VanBecelaere (running back/linebacker) and Will Glover (running back/linebacker).

“We lost a great group of seniors and have some important roles to fill,” Seematter said. “I learned that each season it takes different kids stepping up and filling roles that the previous year’s seniors left behind. Often times, those roles are filled by kids who exceed their expectations and play way above what they thought they were capable of doing.”

Although the Panthers will not play a full CNC League schedule this season, they will get their share of league competition early on, starting with back-to-back home games with Columbus on Sept. 6 and Frontenac Sept. 13. After that, they will hit the road to Baxter Springs before returning home on Sept. 27 to take on Centralia. That will be followed with a neutral-site game against Abilene in Augusta.

The 1A-District 1 slate begins on Oct. 11 at Yates Center and will be followed with a trip to Pleasanton on Oct. 18. The regular season concludes on Oct. 25 with a home game against Uniontown. The top two teams out of that district will advance to the Class 1A playoffs.