Offensive tackle Jeff Panara may have only two football games left in his college career at Army but he’s doing his best to make sure that when he takes off his shoulder pads and helmet for the last time, he’ll be the best football player he can be.
The senior from Hatboro, who in his final year of high school helped lead Archbishop Wood to the PIAA Class AAA state championship in 2014, has played just 13 games for the Black Knights, six of them this season including his only career start last month against Colgate.
Still, his hard work has contributed to an offensive line that has led the way for Army’s dominant rushing attack. The unit has sparked the Black Knights (9-2) to seven straight wins and, with a victory Saturday over Navy at Lincoln Financial Field, the team can tie an academy record with its 10th win of the season.
“I just come to work every day, trying to get better,” Panara said earlier this week in a telephone interview. “I want to work my hardest so that way when the time comes and when my name is called, that I can do my job to the fullest and help the guys around me, make sure I’m doing my job so that way, they can do theirs.”
The 6-foot-3, 260-pound Panara said every offensive lineman does whatever he can, and that strengthens the brotherhood of the unit.
“It’s extremely strong,” he said. “I love the guys around me. I love the guys in my room. I’d do anything for them. Every day I get to work hard and watch those guys push me to work harder, and that’s the very thing that makes me come out every day no matter if it’s hot or cold or if I’m tired, keep getting better because I don’t want to let those guys down.”
Army’s triple-option ground game has rolled up 303 yards per game this season, second in FBS, benefiting from the power running of senior fullback Darnell Woolfolk (823 yards, 14 touchdowns) and the ballhandling ability of junior quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. (783 yards, 10 TDs).
Panara began his high school career at Hatboro-Horsham but transferred to Archbishop Wood for his senior year and played linebacker on the Vikings’ championship team. He said Villanova was among the non-FBS schools showing interest in him, but that he liked what he saw at Army.
“It was the team, the coaches, just what everybody was all about,” he said. “I got to come up here and visit, kind of just see what the vibe was here and I really liked it … an opportunity to come here and be a part of something bigger than myself.”
Panara entered West Point as a defensive end but was moved to the offensive line. After not playing as a freshman, he saw action in three games as a sophomore and four as a junior.
After graduation, Panara will fulfill his military commitment as a field artillery officer. Before that, however, and before the Black Knights conclude the season in the Armed Forces Bowl against Houston, he and the seniors will take part in their final game against Navy.
“It’s the last Army-Navy game,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed the rivalry. I love my team and I love this academy, I love the school, so it just means a lot. It makes you want to go out there even more and play better and play harder like every rep is your last.”