by: Sam McGaw
Centennial is coming off its best season in school history, but with a new head coach and only a few returning starters, there’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding the Cougars in 2016.
Former Forrest head coach Matt Kriesky inherits the program following the departure of Brian Rector, who left for Father Ryan after five seasons at CHS.
Rector led the Cougars to a 12-2 record last season, with both losses coming against eventual state champion Independence.
With several key players gone from last year’s run, it’s an uphill battle for the young Cougars.
“Youth and inexperience will play a huge role this year,” said Kriesky, who went 17-6 with back-to-back playoff appearances in two seasons at Forrest. “All we ask is for these young men to go out and compete each week, one game at a time.”
There’s a four-way competition to determine who will lead Centennial’s spread attack at quarterback this season.
Senior Senturian DuReaux (6-foot, 173 lbs) brings the only experience to the position. He completed 8 of 27 passes for 157 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions last season, while also rushing for 102 yards and two touchdowns.
He’s competing with juniors Jackson Sullivan (5-10, 180 lbs) and Tre Stewart (5-11, 174 lbs), as well as sophomore John Michael Law (6-0, 156 lbs).
The Cougars lost two big playmakers at running back with the departures of Mondu Sawyers and Class 5A Mr. Football winner Tyrel Dodson (Texas A&M).
Sawyers recorded 1,392 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns last season, while Dodson registered 549 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.
Junior John Carter (5-11, 175 lbs) and sophomore Jabriel Wilson (5-11, 160 lbs) are the front-runners to replace the duo in the backfield.
Carter accounted for 230 rushing yards and two touchdowns last fall.
Wide receiver is the area with the most stability for Centennial, with seniors Devious Christmon (6-3, 176 lbs) and Austin Waddell (6-0, 162 lbs) returning to starting roles.
Christmon earned all-region honors last season after catching 32 passes for 544 yards and three touchdowns.
Waddell had 22 grabs for 391 yards and four touchdowns.
DuReaux and juniors Tremond Coffee (5-8, 155 lbs) and Tavion Fleming (5-11, 133 lbs) may also see time in the receiving corps.
Spearheading the offensive line is senior guard Eli Katina (6-2, 271 lbs), who was an all-state selection and the region’s offensive lineman of the year last season.
Only a handful of key contributors return to starting roles for Centennial’s 3-4 defense.
Up front, senior defensive end Nick Bell (6-1, 230 lbs) looks to build on his 2015 season in which he registered 39 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles.
Katina, senior Hayes Morrow (6-3, 224 lbs) and sophomore Jacob Spears (5-10, 182) could also see reps in the trenches.
Seniors Clay Carder (5-8, 180 lbs) and Tony Wall (5-11, 189 lbs) look to pick up the slack at linebacker following the departure of Dodson, who had 111 tackles (32 for loss), eight sacks, two interceptions and one fumble recovery a year ago.
Carder enters his third year as a starter at inside linebacker. He was second on the team in tackles last season with 88. He also had five sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Wall had 58 tackles, four sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
In the secondary, Christmon and Waddell return to their starting roles at cornerback, while the team looks to replace safeties Peyton Pisacane and Warren Jones.
Christmon was tied for a team-high five interceptions last year, while Waddell had three.
DuReaux, Fleming, Coffee and Wilson are also expected to contribute in the secondary.