The past two seasons have served as a coming of age for Central football.
Two years ago, the Chargers went to the GHSA playoffs after five straight years of missing the postseason. Last year, Central posted its best record in a decade while just missing out on a playoff spot.
Now, after losing several key players to graduation, Central looks to keep its success going under fifth-year head coach Jesse Hicks.
“The thing we hang our hat on is that we have a lot of guys who played a lot as young people last year,” Hicks said. “There’s nothing like game experience, I don’t care what anyone tells you. It gave those guys the opportunity of getting that year under their belt. We got another offseason and another spring practice in. We expect that to pay big dividends for us.”
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There will be plenty of holes to fill this fall, beginning at quarterback, where athletic playmaker Derrick Evans has moved on to Carson-Newman, and also on the offensive and defensive lines. But Hicks said he likes the depth Central’s roster has this fall.
All of Central’s four losses last season came to teams with winning records. Three of those teams qualified for postseason play.
“You lose some pieces like Derrick Evans, you lose a Chandler King, you lose an Ivory Childers, you lose a Stephen Parker, and those guys were stalwarts for us,” Hicks said. “They were playmakers. They got things done. When we needed a play, they did it.
“The good thing about that, I feel as that an 11 across the board, whether it be offense, defense or special teams, I think we’re a better football team all the way across the board without those pieces. You’re going to miss the playmaking ability, but as an 11 we’re a little bit better football team.”
One place where Central has some depth is in the secondary, where a couple of juniors are taking on bigger roles following quality sophomore seasons.
Jaren Harris (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) and Kanuri Williams (6-0, 170) each had two interceptions last year, combining for half of Central’s total. And while Central’s defensive scoring average of 17.8 wasn’t spectacular, the Chargers allowed just one opponent — Region 2-3A champion Jackson — to score more than 30 points.
Also adding to Central’s depth in the secondary is Victor Tolliver, a 5-8, 170-pound senior.
“Development, just working hard and executing,” Harris said when asked about the progress Central’s defensive backs have made. “It’s all about togetherness. ... We’re young, but we’re ready to step up and play.”
While the departure of Evans, a 2,000-yard passer who had a 23-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio, means a lot, the Chargers bring back leading rusher Antonio Sanders Jr., who had 786 yards and six touchdowns as a junior.
“We only have about nine seniors, but a lot of those guys are guys who we’re counting on,” Hicks said. “We look good for the future, and we hope we can get some things done on Friday nights.”
Head coach: Jesse Hicks (87-68 in 14 seasons overall; 14-27 in four seasons at Central).
2015 record: 6-4.
2016 region: GHSA 4-3A.
Players to watch: Antonio Sanders (6-0, 205, Sr., RB); Xavier Wesley (6-3, 265, Jr., OL); Taylor Dean (6-4, 240, Soph., OL); Javius Johnson (5-10, 270, Sr., DL); Jaren Harris (5-9, 165, Jr., DB); Victor Toliver (5-8, 170, Sr., DB); Kanuri Williams (6-0, 170, Jr., DB).
Aug. 27 vs. Mount de Sales at Mercer
Sept. 2 vs. Howard
Sept. 9 vs. Southwest
Sept. 16 vs. Northeast
Sept. 23 at Kendrick
Sept. 30 Pike County
Oct. 7 at Peach County
Oct. 14 Jackson
Oct. 20 vs. Rutland
Oct. 28 vs. Westside