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- 2016 All-Missourian Boys Basketball (04/29/16)
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Are two QBs better than one?
Five reasons the Tigers will contend for top honors in Class 4 District 1
Blake Slattery and Garrett Stevens give the Tigers a pair of quarterbacks with two seasons of varsity experience each.
Slattery, a senior, and Stevens, a junior, have split the playing time over the past two seasons. Last season, Stevens opened as the starter, but both spent half the season under center. The pair bring alternate styles, with Stevens more of a pocket passer and Slattery possessing the ability to pass and run.
"Both those kids have skills that will help us," Central coach Lawrence Brookins said. "I think everyone realizes Garrett probably throws a prettier ball more consistently. On the other hand, Blake's better than average in that respect and at times looks pretty good running the football. They both have the ability to lead. We expect a good battle there as far as I'm concerned."
Central dropped Eureka and St. Louis University High from its schedule this season, clearing away two teams that would have been heavy favorites over the Tigers.
The Tigers also dropped Normandy, a likely winnable game, but new additions New Madrid County Central, Parkway North and St. Charles all should offer games the Tigers could win. An easier schedule could help the Tigers enter district play with more confidence, and a little less beat up.
"Losing SLUH and Eureka off the schedule definitely doesn't hurt us, particularly with some of the young kids that will be out there playing varsity football maybe for the first time," Brookins said. "That doesn't say we've watered the schedule down. Parkway North, St. Charles, they'll be strong contests."
A weak district
Despite a pair of poor seasons -- the Tigers have just five wins the last two years -- Central still has been a district contender in Class 4 each season.
West Plains has proven to be the cream of the crop each of the past two years, but the Zizzers finished 6-5 each of the last two years after losing in the sectionals.
With both Sikeston and Poplar Bluff struggling as mightily as the Tigers lately, there should be no reason the Tigers can't contend for a title.
"Football in our immediate area was down in all classes for the most part," Brookins said. "You could count off a six- or seven-year period where Caruthersville, Central for a while, Jackson annually and so on and so on that would be tapping on the playoff doors. Last year was not a good year for anyone in our immediate area, us included."
Small in stature, 5-foot-6 Hykeem Hammonds proved big in the backfield for the Tigers last year, rushing for 908 yards and averaging nearly six yards a carry.
Hammonds finished the season with a 233-yard performance against Sikeston, including rushes of 61 and 80 yards. Overall, Hammonds finished with nine touchdowns -- eight rushing -- to lead the Tigers. Despite his lack of size, Hammonds proved durable as his carries increased over the season.
"He earned a name for himself last year with just under 1,000 yards," Brookins said. "He's undersized, but pound for pound he's as tough as there is. He could really do some good things for us, not just at running back, but also on special teams as a return man.
After a couple of years of low turnout, the Tigers are back over the 60-player mark on their varsity roster.
The added players should give Central more depth and -- in the case of several players such as all-state triple jumper Tyler Terry -- some new weapons to choose from.
"We've had quite a few more kids come out this year to the point where we had to make a call to the equipment supplier," Brookins said. "Right now our number's around 63. That's pretty good. Last year we ended the season with approximately 50. Numbers up is in some ways a good thing. Out of the kids that started up after a few days of school there's a handful that can help us out -- a couple immediately. Tyler Terry hadn't played since his freshman year. We've had a couple guys similar to Tyler who could be immediate helps."
And five reasons they won't
Central will return just two players with starting experience on the offensive line.
Line play has been an issue for the Tigers the past two seasons. With the potential for sophomore starters on the line this season, the unit's development will go a long way in determining Central's success.
"My biggest concern is the development of the linemen, as I only have a couple of guys [Cody Mayes and Kory Kitchen] who started every game or a couple of games," Brookins said. "Every other player will be new guys, some sophomores. How fast they develop will decide the personality of our offense and defense."
During the Tigers' four-year reign as district champs, Central's lineman were big, physical and could control the line of scrimmage.
Central has entered a bit of a drought lately. There appears to be some size in the younger classes.
"If they continue to work the next couple of years we might finally get another Central line that can get on the scales and help us out," Brookins said. "We need to get the scale tilted the right way."
The varsity team will get an infusion of talent this year, thanks to a strong group of sophomores led by George Hamilton III and Cantrell Andrews.
The Tigers return several starters on both sides of the ball but will have to rely on inexperienced players in some areas.
It is safe to say few people throughout the area would have predicted West Plains to win back-to-back district titles in its first two years since moving into Class 4 District 1.
The Zizzers have been 3-4 entering district play each of the last two years, but they are 6-0 in district play, and none of those games has been closer than 13 points.
"They're for real," Brookins said. "They've got good size. They're a thick bunch of kids, that's the best way I can describe it."
After a stretch of four straight district titles and three consecutive quarterfinal appearances, Central has just five wins in the past two seasons.
This year's group of seniors have not had the opportunity to enjoy success at the varsity level like some of their predecessors. Building a new-found confidence following two poor seasons, which included a pair of drubbings at the hands of rival Jackson, could be difficult.
"That's a challenge every year," Brookins said. "It's even more difficult when you're successful. You have to try to do the right things and say the right things to continue that success. We've all had periods, those years when you're in the cellar or fighting to stay out of it. It's not much different than when you're on top. The challenge is to keep the kids improving from day to day."