Football Tab 2018: Central looking to build off of historic season

Central's Christopher Conner runs along the sideline as Buffalo Gap's Brandon McCray positions for the tackle during their playoff game last season in Woodstock. The Falcons return a lot of players from last year's squad, which went 11-1. Rich Cooley/Daily file

WOODSTOCK – Central had a historic season last year, becoming the first team in program history to go undefeated in the regular season. With a lot of last year’s players returning this season, the Falcons have high expectations for what they can accomplish.

Central coach Mike Yew said that he hopes his team’s experience will pay big dividends in the upcoming season.

The Falcons’ stellar season ended with a 49-21 loss to eventual Class 2 state runner-up Robert E. Lee. Having 17 seniors on this year’s squad should help the Falcons have another solid year.

“We had a chance to play 12 football games last year,” Yew said. “We ran into Robert E. Lee, who was a very good football team. As talented as they were and with us being short-handed didn’t help, so we’re certainly excited about what our potential is this year.”

The Falcons have plenty of returners on the offensive side of the ball. Central senior quarterback Zeb Dyer will be starting at the position for the third year.

Dyer threw for 1,355 yards and had 18 touchdown passes on 61-for-89 passing last year.

“I feel more confident,” Dyer said. “I feel stronger as the leader. I feel like I’m helping out the younger guys pretty good.”

Yew said that junior Kelan Hoover would serve as the backup quarterback and he’s been impressed with what he’s seen from Hoover in the preseason.

Central has plenty of depth at running back, led by seniors Shane Watson and Hunter Mullins. Watson had 1,315 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, while Mullins had 682 yards and seven scores.

Junior Chris Conner also returns to the Central backfield, coming off a sophomore year in which he had 221 yards and five scores. Yew said that junior Noah Williams should also see playing time at running back this season.

Central senior wide receiver Kyle Clanton should also get some carries out of the backfield. Last year Clanton had 32 carries for 398 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Clanton leads a strong receiving core this season. Last year Clanton had 23 receptions for 642 yards and nine touchdowns.

Seniors T.J. Williams and Nick Houghton will help give Central some depth at the receiving position along with junior tight end Christian Spitler. Yew said junior Landon Shockey and sophomores Alexis Lopez, Brevin Scott and Jamonta Harris should also see playing time at wide receiver.

Clanton said having depth is important to the offense.

“We can run it up the middle, we can bounce it outside, we can pass,” Clanton said. “We have a dynamic offense. The coaches have been saying we are more deadly when we can move the ball around to different people.”

Central averaged 48 points per contest last season, and a big part of that success came from the Falcons’ offensive line.

With four returning starters back from last year the team is hoping for more of the same success. Seniors Jacob France, Declan Franklin, Grayson Manning and Ezra Smith will look to lead the way for the offense again this season.

“It should be our strength, no question,” Yew said of the offensive line. “We’ve got four returning seniors and a returning senior tight end. So it certainly is our strength, and everybody knows it. We’re going to lean on it.”

On the defensive line, Franklin and Smith will be looking to lead the way. Last year, Franklin had seven sacks for the Falcons. Junior Dylan Mullins also returns for the Falcons on the defensive front.

Yew said senior Neddy Portillo is still recovering from a torn knee ligament suffered late last season but is expected to be back by the start of the season. Yew said senior Zach Helmick and junior Billy Ball are battling for the other starting defensive end position.

Senior linebacker Zach Abrams also suffered a season-ending leg injury late last season, and Yew said he hopes to have Abrams back early in the year. Before suffering the injury, Abrams had 68 tackles for Central last year.

The other linebacker spots are up for grabs, and Yew said that the Falcons have a lot of players that will be vying for valuable playing time.

Yew said that Noah Williams, Spitler, junior Gerson Sorto Lopez, Conner and freshman Isaiah Dyer are all in the running for playing time at linebacker.

Clanton, Houghton and Shockey are the expected starters in the defensive backfield with T.J. Williams also seeing plenty of playing time. Yew said that he’d been impressed with Shockey in the preseason.

“Landon did a good job last year,” Yew said. “And he’s one of those kids that we’ve seen him really transform. A lot of times kids make a big change from freshman to sophomore year or from sophomore to junior year, and for him, he changed from sophomore to junior year. His technique is good, and he does a good job out there, and it’s his job to lose.”

Yew said that sophomore Erik Lopez would do the placekicking duties while the punter job was undecided.

The early part of Central’s schedule was in flux. Park View canceled its season and Central was mulling over what to do with that week.

Clanton said expectations are high, but the key is to stay focused and take things one game at a time just like they did last year.

“To go undefeated again would be a heck of a thing, and to go deep in the playoffs,” Clanton said of the team’s goals. “And what everybody wants is to win that state championship. So we just got to come out here and do our thing like we normally do.”