EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Under head coach Eric Pichardo, Austin has turned into one of the toughest and most difficult teams to prepare for in El Paso over the last five years.

The Panthers’ offensive system is uncommon in the modern era of football, making it a unique for any team that faces it on a week-to-week basis, despite Austin not having the amount of players most teams do. That, coupled with a work ethic that embodies Pichardo’s personality, has made Austin a successful squad year-in-and-year-out.

Austin shared the District 2-5A Division II championship in 2021 with Andress and Burges. A year later, the Panthers bring back nine starters on both sides of the football, including senior linebacker/running back Jayden Wilson, a New Mexico Lobos commit.

That alone would leave Pichardo confident in his team entering the season, but a move to Class 4A Division I has led to even higher hopes of a great season in central El Paso.

“The expectations are high, and we didn’t set the expectations, the players did it themselves,” Pichardo said. “We won a share of the district title last year in 5A; these kids have a high ceiling that they want to reach this season.”

From a sheer enrollment standpoint, 4A is a much better fit for Austin, but it’s the first time in a very long time they’ve been moved down. Placed in District 1-4A Division I, the Panthers will be with Bowie and Irvin – who also dropped from Class 5A in the offseason – San Elizario and defending district champion and Regional Semifinalist, Riverside.

Even two months in advance, the Austin-Riverside clash on Oct. 21 looks like it could decide the District championship. Expect those two teams to battle it out hard for the top spot, and perhaps make extended playoff runs.

“I think we’d dominate wherever we are, if it’s 6A, 5A, 4A, wherever it is, if they moved us up I believe we’d dominate too. It’s just the intensity that this team plays with and the love of the game they have,” said Wilson.

Austin will open the 2022 season on Aug. 26 on the road at Fort Stockton. The first episode of KTSM’s 9 Overtime kicks off at 10:15 p.m. that same night.