By Tommy Keeler Jr.
WOODSTOCK -- With a young and inexperienced team, Central head football coach Mike Yew has seen his squad go through plenty of growing pains. However, Yew has still been encouraged by what he's seen from the group.
"Our kids are still out here every day," Yew said. "They're still working hard. We have hit some walls here or there. It's been kind of peaks and valleys. The learning curve has kicked in a little bit."
Yew said he and his coaching staff have had to remind themselves that this team is very young and most haven't played in a varsity game before.
Central lost 21 players to graduation. Last year's senior group led the team to the playoffs three consecutive years, including the final eight the last two seasons.
"We all as coaches, and I know I'm especially guilty of this, is we expect more just because they've been in the program. And we probably shouldn't expect as much early simply because they've been here rather than playing," Yew said. "A lot of those kids, even though they're juniors and seniors, it's the first time they're really getting on the field. So, I think we set our expectations a little too high. Nevertheless, I'd rather aim high than aim low and not get there at all."
Yew said it's important for his team to find its own identity.
"These kids need to find themselves," Yew said. "I don't need people coming up talking 'Hey, last year was really great.' Last year was great, but this year to me is just as great. We have good kids. We have a good program in place. ... Our goal is to create good young men and for these guys to get better."
DOUBLE DIP: One player who will be relied on heavily on both sides of the ball will be junior Hank Hoover.
The 6-foot, 170-pounder is expected to start at both tailback and linebacker. Yew said that Hoover would have seen a lot more playing time at linebacker last season, had he not had a talented group of seniors ahead of him.
Yew said that last year was a tough one for Hoover because he didn't get a lot of playing time, especially at tailback.
"Two years ago Hank [Hoover] was the feature tailback on the JV team, so I think this past year was probably, as much as it was learning for him, frustrating to go from a guy who carries it 15, 18 times a game to not many at all," Yew said. "So last year was probably a little bit tough for him. As a junior, we're expecting him to kind of carry the load for the most part. We're not a 20-to-25 run feature tailback kind of offense for the most part, but we do expect him to carry the ball I would say anywhere from 12-to-16 -- maybe 18 -- times a game. We'll have some guys that will spell him because he's going to need breaks.
"It's a lot to ask of a kid to be our tailback and one of our middle linebackers. And we'll probably give more breaks on offense than on defense, because we need to stop people."
BRAND NEW WORLD: Perhaps the toughest position for Central to replace from last year's squad will be at wide receiver. The Falcons had a lot of depth at receiver. Not only did they have strength in numbers, but also in size with at least five guys who were 6-0 or taller and several that were 6-3 or 6-4.
"You're not going to replace 6-4, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4. Then you throw in a couple other kids that just ran routes well," Yew said. "We were loaded at wide receiver last year. At any given time we could put four or five wide receivers out there with a tight end or without and we probably had a better matchup at every position on the field. This year we're just not there physically."
Yew said he expects Tristan Rau and Connor Hammack to be the starters, with Carston Shockey, Varsay Bright and Saxson Franklin also vying for playing time.
One thing is guaranteed -- the Falcons will still pass the ball.
"We've got kids that run good routes. We will throw the ball, there's no question about that," Yew said. "Anybody that thinks we're going to crawl into a shell and run it 40 times a night, obviously doesn't know me very well.
"I think our receivers have done a good job. We haven't thrown the ball much yet in practice, we've been working on our running game because we're doing some new things. But when we have, we've done good things with throwing the ball."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or email@example.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd