The encore performance from the first Mifflin team to make the playoffs in 15 years never got off the ground last fall.

The Punchers reached the Division II, Region 7 playoffs in 2017 for their first postseason appearance since current Northland coach Brian Staats was their coach in 2002, and for just the fifth time in program history.

Last season was far from what was acceptable to coach Anthony Thornton, as Mifflin slipped to 2-8 overall and 2-4 in the City League-North Division.

In addition to an almost entirely new roster, the Punchers are coming in with a fresh perspective.

"It's been going very well I would say," said Thornton, who is in his fifth season. "Just being 2-8, there are some things from my vantage point, as I told the kids and the staff, that I'm solely responsible for. Everything in terms of our record is directly related to me and that I was going to solve it. (Issues) off the field and some different things of that nature have been solved. We probably had some of the best practices in all of my years of coaching, all of those things that precluded us last year from being as good as we could be."

The Punchers had one standout athlete last season in Thornton's son, Aman Thornton, who played key roles on offense, defense and special teams and went on to win the Division I 800 meters state championship in June. He now is competing in track and field for the University of Illinois.

Mifflin, though, was unable to sustain enough consistency on either side of the ball around Thornton. The Punchers gave up an average of 51 points in their four non-league losses and were blown out by league rivals Northland (54-12) and Centennial (48-6).

Thornton calls his roster a "whole different crop of kids" and likes the camaraderie he's seen so far. The Punchers open Aug. 30 at Walnut Ridge.

Senior Karon Mitchell, who is one of the team's few returnees, agrees.

"We've got a new team and it's been going well," Mitchell said. "A lot of guys are stepping up and playing their part. Last year we weren't as much of a team. We're trying to get back to being a playoff team like we were."

OFFENSE

After serving mostly as a backup defensive back last fall, Mitchell figures to be a part of what the Punchers hope is a deep receiving corps in addition to being a key player on defense.

He will be joined at wide receiver by seniors Tylik Gore and Jalen Owens and junior Ajoure Long-Lawrence.

Owens also could end up being an option at quarterback, but sophomore Tyler Macklin is expected to be the starter to begin the season.

Junior Tyquez Terry is another who can play quarterback but likely will start the year at running back along with senior MihAnthony Carlisle.

Sophomore Thaddeus McDuffie, who was honorable mention all-league last season, could see time at either tight end or on an offensive line that will have five new starters.

The only senior on the line is Daimear Bryant, who will line up at guard and is the smallest expected starter.

Aman Thornton, who saw time at quarterback and wide receiver, was first-team all-league last season along with running back and 2019 graduate Tavion Scales.

DEFENSE

Senior Marcus McGee will lead the defense from an end spot in addition to playing tight end.

The rest of the line will be comprised of key players from the offensive line, including juniors Kaourou Camara, Jameel Hasan-Smith, Dylan Taylor and Kamron Wattie.

Junior Tyler Marchio is among the few other returnees and will be at middle linebacker, with sophomore Josh Burgess at outside linebacker and Long-Lawrence playing what coach Thornton calls a "rover" position that is a hybrid of outside linebacker and strong safety.

Junior Kassim Dear Jr., who was a part of Dublin Coffman's program as a freshman but was injured last season, is expected to be at cornerback along with Gore.

Mitchell and Terry should be the safeties.

SPECIAL TEAMS

After Aman Thornton served as kicker and punter last season, the Punchers figure to have senior Kevin Blanco as kicker and Carlisle or junior Mohamed Sheik as punter.

Terry is expected to be the long snapper, with Gore, Long-Lawrence, Mitchell and Owens expected to be options as returners.

THE LINEUP

Offense

Quarterbacks: *Tyler Macklin (so., 6-1, 175), Jalen Owens (5-7, 165), Tyquez Terry (jr., 5-10, 180)

Running backs: *MihAnthony Carlisle (sr., 5-10, 200), Terry

Receivers: *Tylik Gore (sr., 5-10, 180), *Ajoure Long-Lawrence (jr., 5-10, 175), *Karon Mitchell (sr., 5-8, 155), *Owens

H-Back/Tight end: *Marcus McGee (sr., 6-3, 205), Tyler Marchio (jr., 5-8, 175), Thaddeus McDuffie (so., 6-2, 205)

Linemen: *Daimear Bryant (sr., 5-11, 200), *Kaourou Camara (jr., 6-5, 265), *Jameel Hasan-Smith (jr., 6-3, 250), *Dylan Taylor (6-2, 250), *Kamron Wattie (jr., 6-5, 265), McDuffie

Defense

Linemen: *McGee, Bryant, Camara, Hasan-Smith, McDuffie, Taylor, Wattie

Linebackers: *Josh Burgess (so., 5-10, 180), *Long-Lawrence, *Marchio

Secondary: *Kassim Dear Jr., (jr. 5-10, 170), *Gore, *Mitchell, *Terry

Special teams

Kicker: *Kevin Blanco (sr.)

Punters: Carlisle, Mohamed Sheik (jr.)

Returners: Gore, Long-Lawrence, Mitchell, Owens

Long snapper: *Terry

(*Denotes projected starter)

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek