As the 2014 regular season drew to a close in November, Derrick Evans and the Central Chargers faced one big final exam.
The test: Could Central, which hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2008, win the one game that would put it back into the postseason? It was a game at Henderson Stadium against Kendrick, a winner-take-all situation that would give the winner the fourth-place spot in GHSA Region 2-AAA.
Evans and his teammates passed that test. Bolstered by a strong defensive effort, Central defeated Kendrick 14-2, with Evans, the team’s veteran quarterback, throwing for both of the Chargers’ scores.
Just getting to that point was an accomplishment for Central. After a string of one- and two-win seasons, the Chargers improved to 5-6 in head coach Jesse Hicks’ third year with the program.
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“We had a lot of energy last year when we made the playoffs for the first time in about six years,” said Evans, who began his high school career as Hicks took over the Central program and is now entering his senior year. “We’re still in the moment of it, the happiness of making it. We’re trying to feed off of it, to go deeper, as deep as we can.
“The first two years were a rough start, but it’s going to take time. As we see now, the time has built up. We’re trying to keep going further and further, as much as we can.”
It’s a group effort, one that has many key pieces returning.
Central’s primary running back, Antonio Sanders, is back after rushing for 632 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore. So is senior Ivory Childers, who had 455 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 20 catches.
“Ivory is a great receiver, and Antonio is a great running back,” Evans said. “They know the experience of being out there on Friday night. We should have a good connection, playing together three or four years. Everything should be good.”
Evans, meanwhile, threw for 1,319 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, completing 53 percent of his passes.
“Derrick is never a kid who has lacked confidence, but his skill level is just as good as his confidence level,” Hicks said. “That’s what makes him such a good quarterback. He’s one of those guys who can be a great leader and can lead us. We’re hoping he comes out swinging.
“I feel like Derrick is one of the top players in this region. I think he’s the best quarterback in the region. I know I’m biased, but I think he’s one of the best athletes in the Southeast. That’s been shown by the amount of coaches that came through in the spring and how many are recruiting him strong right now.”
Now that Central has playoff experience, the question is how far can Evans and his teammates -- especially the eight starters who return on each side of the ball -- go?
“We want to go out with a bang,” Evans said.
ABOUT THE CENTRAL CHARGERS
Head coach: Jesse Hicks (81-64 in 14 seasons overall; 9-22 in three seasons at Central).
Assistant coaches: Robert “Bo” Cummings (offensive coordinator); Rod Cummings (defensive coordinator); Rico Gibson (running backs); Jamoski Ward (quarterbacks); Joc Sample (defensive line); Daniel Dukes (defensive backs); Ron Rodgers (outside linebackers); Dorian Byrd (offensive line).
Offensive scheme: Spread/zone.
Defensive scheme: 3-4.
2014 record: 5-6.
Region: GHSA 2-AAA.
Returning starters: Eight on offense; eight on defense.
Players to watch: Derrick Evans (Sr., QB); Chandler King (Sr., DE); Antonio Sanders (Jr., RB); Ivory Childers (Sr., WR); Stephen Parker (Sr., DE); Javius Johnson (Jr., DT); Carlos Ferguson (Sr., LB); Xavier Wesley (Soph., OL); Quinterrious Cornelious (Sr., RB); Clifford Wilson (Sr., OL); Walter Ford (Sr., LB); Jaren Harris (Jr., CB); Kameron Adkins (Soph., RB).
Aug. 27 Wilkinson County
Sept. 4 vs. Howard
Sept. 11 at Jordan
Sept. 18 vs. Westside
Sept. 25 Spencer
Oct. 2 Peach County
Oct. 16 vs. Southwest
Oct. 23 Jackson
Oct. 29 vs. Rutland
Nov. 6 at Kendrick