Last season: 4-6 (2-5 District 5-6A)
Key players: QB Reese Robertson (6-0, 160), NG Patrick O’Connell (5-9, 245), LB Matt Girard (6-0, 220), RB Zion Purvis (5-7, 170), RB Dantaven Blackshear (5-8, 190), DB Tony Dracopoulos (5-10, 160), DB Joshua Cilumba (6-2, 200).
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The big picture: Central failed to reach the playoffs last season, but there were some positives to draw from, like beating Denton Guyer and ending the season with a victory over Timber Creek. About two dozen lettermen return and that experience should help the Chargers in 2016. It’s always beneficial to have a returning quarterback, and Central has one in Reese Robertson. The senior locked down the starting role last season and completed more than 60 percent of his passes for 1,690 yards and 10 touchdowns . He was also the team’s leading rusher with 490 yards. In fact, Central returns its top three rushers when including running backs Zion Purvis and Dantaven Blackshear. Neither halfback is a big guy, but both averaged more than 4 yards per carry and have valuable chemistry with Robertson. The wide receiver corps will feature a mix of youth and veterans. Matt Simmons (172 yards, 2 TDs) is back as a senior starter, while freshman E.J. Graham is expected to start as well. Grant Meek is the backup QB but will also fill a slot role. The offensive line could also feature young players, with as many as three sophomores in starting roles. Defensively, the Chargers bring back plenty of battle-tested players. Linebacker Matt Girard is the engine. He had 120 tackles last year as a sophomore. Tony Dracopoulos (120 tackles, 4 INTs) returns in the secondary as does Joshua Cilumba, who moves from cornerback to safety. Coach Bart Helsley feels good about the trenches, with defensive ends Austin Gaither and Christian Worthy and nose guard Patrick O’Connell. The linebacking group features three-year letterman Nick Schifftner as well as Taylor Kenda. “They get after it and they play hard. It’s just finding the consistency and finding the right blend; making sure guys are in the right spot. That’s what remains to be seen these first couple of weeks,” Helsley said.
Quotable: “It’s his composure. I really like the way he’s pretty unflappable. When we do something well, he’ll get excited or when something bad happens, he’s hard on himself, but for the most part he remains pretty even temperamentally, and I like that in a quarterback.” — Coach Bart Helsley on QB Reese Robertson
“It would feel good, even better knowing that we did it as a team and no other class has done it before. That’s one of our goals. Our thing this year is holding each other accountable. I feel like we’re at the point we can trust each other and play together. I feel like we are a more close-knit group.” — QB Reese Robertson on getting the school’s first playoff win
Notable: Central has never won a playoff game. The Chargers advanced to the postseason four consecutive years from 2011 to 2014, but was defeated each time in the bi-district round.