After posting its first winning season since 2001, Centennial is expecting to receive the best shots from its opponents this season.
"I understand there are a lot of high expectations in the community and in the school since we went 7-3 last season, but I don't want the kids to hear how good they should be," seventh-year coach Donte Goosby said. "I want them to approach every day the right way and focus on the things that will make this team better today and make this program better in the long run.
"In order to be successful on a perennial basis, they have to work harder, prepare harder and get better. Those outside sources filling the heads of 16-, 17- and 18-year old kids don't understand the entire process or the preparation football requires. They just know your win-loss record. We're going to have a target on our backs this season and we have to be prepared."
Although the Stars return a large number of players at the skill positions, the offense will need to replace four starters on the line who paved the way as the Stars surpassed 3,000 total yards and averaged 33.2 points.
Key losses on defense included a pair of linebackers and a defensive back.
"The good news is that with injuries and rotations, we've got a lot of guys back who played significant snaps last year," Goosby said. "We're going to need to be ready to go for the opener and see if we can't get off to a better start this year and we've got to avoid injuries."
The Stars open Aug. 30 at Grandview, who won last year's matchup 27-0.
Centennial's other losses were 35-0 to Northland in the City League-North Division opener and 30-25 to Beechcroft, as the Stars finished 4-2 in league play.
"We weren't ready physically for Grandview, we lost to Beechcroft in the final seconds and we only trailed Northland 7-0 at halftime before an injury to a two-way standout (graduate Khari Woods) changed the complexion of that game.
"But last year was last year. We consider Grandview a rival game and they've kicked our butts recently, so it hasn't been much of a rivalry. They're our barometer and we're anxious to see how we stack up. It's always an important game because it lets us see where we are and what we have to do to compete against the better teams on our schedule."
With junior Jaylen Gilbert returning as a three-year starter at quarterback, senior Luchene Davis returning at halfback and other playmakers at slotback and receiver, the focus for the Stars is shoring up the offensive line.
Junior Seth Arrowood is the returning starter at left guard and he was honorable mention all-league. Juniors Justin Grimes and Noah Hatem are the tackles, with junior Jacob Barnes at center. Junior Kevin Motley likely will start at right guard, but he was recovering from an injury in the preseason.n
"Seth is a third-year starter and will be the leader and anchor up there," Goosby said. "He's familiar with our schemes and can help the others get acclimated. But Grimes and Motley have good experience. They played a lot down the stretch last year and they're very capable and have the ability.
"Noah is moving from tight end to tackle and Barnes has a good grasp of our concepts. Dejwar Ali is also in the mix and he's moving from fullback to O-line."
In addition to Davis, other weapons include Marquese Scott and Tyreek Gunnell at slotbacks and Syquee Womack and C.J. Dean at receivers.
Davis rushed for 1,201 yards and 11 touchdowns. Gilbert was 63-for-92 passing for 1,013 yards with 14 touchdowns and rushed for 600 yards and nine scores on 85 carries.
Scott had 18 catches for 445 yards, rushed 24 times for 187 yards and returned 17 kickoffs for 513 yards. He totaled 13 touchdowns. Womack had 15 receptions for 387 yards, 14 kickoff returns for 302 yards and had six touchdowns.
Gilbert, Davis and Scott were named first-team all-league. Womack was on the second team.
"I'm really impressed by all of those guys," Goosby said. "Jaylen was physically ready as a freshman, but now he's in command of the offense. He's reading the defenses and making check downs and even knows all of the blocking schemes. His growth mentally has been tremendous in the past year.
"Luchene is a great running back with good quickness. He's a slasher but physical enough to pound the ball and I've never seen him caught from behind once he busts out. Marquese is one of the fastest kids in the City and we want to get him space to run. Womack also is explosive and C.J. is an athlete and very effective."
Arrowood, Grimes, Motley and Hatem are expected to play up front in Centennial's 4-2-5 defense, with Scott and Womack leading a secondary that also includes Gunnell, junior John Smith and Dean.
"Womack was all-state at free safety last year and Scott was all-district at cornerback," Goosby said. "Gunnell is a special playmaker at the other corner and Smith is moving from corner to strong safety.
"Up front, all of those guys were starters or played starter's minutes in rotations, so they're experienced. I like what we have to offer defensively."
Ali and sophomore Blake Bennett will be the linebackers.
Ali returns as place-kicker and Davis is back as punter. Davis and Scott will be among those returning punts and kickoffs.
Quarterbacks: *Jaylen Gilbert (jr.), Blake Bennett (so)
Running backs: *Luchene Davis (sr.), *Tyreek Gunnell (jr.) *Marquese Scott (jr.), Coreion Bennett (so.), Kevin Brown (fr.)
Receivers: *C.J. Dean (jr.), *Syquee Womack (jr.), Tavares Overton (jr.), John Smith (jr.)
Tight ends: *Kelvin Gilliam (sr.), Noah Hatem (jr.)
Linemen: *Seth Arrowood (sr.), *Jacob Barnes (jr.), *Justin Grimes (jr.), *Noah Hatem (jr.), Dejwar Ali (jr.), Reda Fatalah (sr.), Khmari Lovelace (so.), Kevin Motley (jr.), Karwan Rahmani (jr.), Azyiah Taylor (fr.), Dellen Welcome (fr.)
Linemen: *Arrowood, *Hatem, *Grimes, Gilliam, Lovelace, Motley, Taylor, Welcome
Linebackers: *Ali, *Blake Bennett, Nick Bradfield (so.)
Secondary: *Dean, *Gunnell, *Scott, *Smith, *Womack, Coreion Bennett, Brown, Hatem, Overton, Smith
Returners: Scott, Davis
Long snapper: To be determined
(*Denotes projected starter)