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Central rides superior talent with less depth

PARK HILLS – The Central coaching staff has recently amassed an enviable bounty of talent that probably seemed unfathomable when the football program changed direction two decades ago.

While some high school offenses rely heavily on two or three dangerous playmakers in a given situation, the Rebels have compiled more weapons than available places to utilize them.

Although that trend is bound for a more noticeable downturn once the current senior class leaves, 20th-year head coach Kory Schweiss is excited about his prospects in the present.

Central brings back four all-state performers from a stout 11-2 squad that returned to the Class 3 state playoffs after rising to win a second marquee battle with longtime power Valle Catholic.

“As coaches going into that game, we felt that the way Valle dominates everyone, we really didn’t know if we were on the same level as them,” Schweiss said. “We really had to prove it to ourselves. But our kids never thought that Valle was better than us.”

Jobe Bryant

That rematch, along with the ensuing quarterfinal loss to Cardinal Ritter, tested the physical fortitude of the Rebels, who had routed most opponents and rarely left their starters on the field for 48 minutes.

Central again has a foundation in place to expect a dominant season, but may need more mileage from its established stars until a less experienced second string develops consistency.

“Except for playing Valle and maybe Poplar Bluff in week 1, we really didn’t have any other games where our starters had to be out there for four quarters until we played Ritter,” Schweiss recalled. “It’s hard to get in game shape when you’re not having to do that all the time. There’s a fine line between being good sports and still trying to give your guys the work they need.”

Among the many bright spots in the Central roster is a stingy defense blessed with exceptional speed and experience, specifically across a versatile five-man secondary.

Seniors Casen Murphy and Jobe Bryant delivered all-state caliber efforts at safety last year, but were instead honored for their equally stellar offensive achievements.

The corner spots are also dynamic with Caden Casey opposite Farmington transfer Braydon Berry, and track star Kannon Harlow is a natural fit at the vacated nickel position.

“With our experience at safety, we have used so many different looks in the past,” Schweiss said. “Going into this year, we already have more coverage combinations. It should be pretty fun.”

Jaxon Jones

Jaxon Jones is building upon a brilliant sophomore season at middle linebacker, where he amassed 111 tackles and was involved in 11 forced turnovers over just 10 games.

All-state defensive tackle Sammy Callaway, three-year contributor Logan Murray and Nathan Weinhold give Central a total of eight returning starters on the defensive side.

Barrett Henson is taking on a more prominent role in the second level, and fellow junior Hayden Carver joins the mix in earnest as another two-way lineman.

“We’ve had some really good defenses. And even last year, we set all kinds of team records, especially with creating turnovers,” Schweiss said. “If we stay healthy, then this group should be about as good as any of them. We are loaded at every position.”

The Rebels dodged a major scare in the offseason when Murphy, one of the premier baseball talents in the region, suffered injuries to his knee and throwing elbow.

Along with his seven interceptions on defense, Murphy seceded star quarterback Jett Bridges by turning in all-state numbers with more than 2,600 passing yards and 33 touchdowns amid just four picks.

Casen Murphy

Full mobility has been restored for Murphy, but the team is still waiting for medical clearance to use his arm. Fortunately, a six-time all-state athlete – over two sports – is available to shoulder the burden.

Bryant already owns every single-season and career receiving record at Central, and is being prepared to begin his senior campaign at quarterback until Murphy reaches full capacity.

The temporary role switch should not affect the explosive nature of the offense. Bryant, who averaged nearly 17 yards per touch last year – factoring in punt and kick returns – has taken previous snaps.

Jones is poised for a bigger spotlight at running back, and the combination of Harlow, Berry, Casey and others can help supply some of the 1,656 yards in total offense and 30 scores attained by Bryant.

Sammy Callaway

The left side of the offensive line is proven with Weinhold and Callaway alongside Murray at center. Cole Presswood is joining the top unit along with Carver.

Central could face a manpower issue with Henson representing the most dependable substitute for the offense. Positive progress from linemen Kaden Boren, Dakota Bowers and Aiden Reddick is crucial.

“Even if Jobe stays at quarterback for a while, we still have four big threats, and Barrett will be a guy that we can put into different places,” Schweiss said. “We need to get everyone involved, because that makes our offense harder to defend.”

Opponents will likely avoid kicking directly to the Rebels after watching Bryant permanently stamp his legacy on highlight reels with remarkable returns.

The prominent change on special teams resides with new sophomore kicker Devan Graf. The Rebels should keep him busy with frequent extra points.

Kannon Harlow

With MSHSAA altering the size of school classifications this year, Central is eager to see the potential roadblocks as it tries to finally advance into the state semifinals.

In the meantime, larger SEMO North opponents Poplar Bluff, Cape Central and Farmington offer solid measuring sticks. The anticipated battle against Valle Catholic arrives at week 6 in Park Hills.

“Depth is probably going to be our biggest concern this year,” Schweiss said. “We have to ride our starters… Staying injury free will be key, along with staying in good shape.”

2023 Schedule:

Aug. 25 – at Poplar Bluff

Sept. 1 – Caruthersville

Sept. 8 – at Potosi*

Sept. 15 – Cape Central

Sept. 22 – at Ste. Genevieve*

Sept. 29 – Valle Catholic*

Oct. 6 – Fredericktown*

Oct. 13 – Dexter

Oct. 19 – at Farmington

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