(BRIAN ROSENER ~ Daily American Republic)
And this preseason there has been a lot of orange and a lot of urgency.
"When you're a junior, you've got another year," said Central tailback and cornerback Chris Martin, one of 17 seniors on the team. "When you're a senior, you've got to bring everything.
"It definitely changes your mindset. Last year the mindset was ‘Yeah, get stronger.' This year it's like, ‘I have to get stronger.' It's no doubt it has to happen."
The Tigers started their first year under coach Nathan Norman 4-0 but later saw the need to get stronger after yielding 96 points in a pair of district losses that ultimately ended their season at 6-3.
"It opened up our eyes," senior tailback and safety Jacob Campbell said. "Most of us was really upset we didn't make the playoffs, so that's what our focus is, getting to the top."
Campbell led a balanced rushing attack with 562 yards last season. Junior Mikey Jones was second on the team and Martin was third.
All three players averaged at least six yards a carry, with the agile and fleet-footed Martin leading the group with an 11.8-yard average.
Campbell was a dual threat with an 8-yard average per carry and a team-leading 300 yards receiving.
The threesome, along with senior Alex Davis-Carter, will provide plenty of options for Norman, who has scrapped the Tigers' wing-T offense for a new approach that will use the I and motion.
"We have a couple kids back there. ... They're fast," Norman said. "They're not necessarily the fastest kids in the state, but they're definitely fast kids, and that's something we have to use to our advantage."
Seniors Jacob Margetta and Jared Thomas and sophomore Braion Owens will see time at fullback.
Norman is seeking a more balanced attack after traveling primarily by land a year ago. The Tigers compiled 2,150 yards rushing and 774 yards passing last season.
"That was one of our goals," Norman said. "We have to become more balanced. We will run the ball more than we throw it, but we have to get that number a little bit closer than it was last year. To beat good people, you have to be balanced."
Junior Dennis Vinson will take over the quarterback duties after starting the final game of his junior season due to injury to then-senior Christian Cavaness. Vinson was 6 of 6 for 75 yards and two touchdown passes, which came in a win against Perryville in the season finale.
Targets will be seniors Kyle Thompson, Garan Evans, Luke Phillips and Rene Reyes and sophomore Bailey Keller. The tight ends are junior Jacob Boerboom and senior Marcus Dixon.
The offensive line is teeming with juniors, including returning starters in center Scottie Thomas, guard Chase Eubank and tackle Martez Carter.
"Our biggest goal this year is to get our speed guys to the line of scrimmage, because when they get to the line, it's hard to bring them down," Thomas said.
Juniors Zach Stagner and Lorenzen Brookins will be in the guard rotation. Senior Joe Wolsey will fill the other tackle, with junior Caleb Jones and senior Caleb Crim providing depth.
"This group needs to really come on for us and by the middle of the year be a leader for us," Norman said. "And next year, boy, I really look for big things out of our offensive line."
The defense returns eight starters.
"We have some pretty good team speed on defense, and I think that's a strength for any defense," Norman said.
The defense is anchored by a good-sized line with a rotation that will include senior Chris Bryant, junior Darvile Hopkins, Dixon, Martez Carter, Stagner and sophomore T.J. Pierson.
"I think it will be tough for someone to just pound the ball down our D-line's throat, and we've got some kids that can move pretty good," Norman said.
The linebacker group has two returning starters in Margetta and Scottie Thomas along with sophomore Chase Hagerty, seniors Blake Wilson and Keneen Abraham, Boerboom, Reyes and sophomore Josh Morse.
The secondary includes experience and speed at cornerback in Martin and Evans, and at safety in Campbell. The defensive back crew also includes Davis-Carter, Jones and Thompson.
"We need to be more disciplined as a team as a whole," Norman said. "Last year I felt like we were inconsistent. It's not necessarily any one thing, but just overall team consistency and discipline."
Norman said special teams were a weakness last year and looks for improvement in that area.
"We lost a couple key spots that were very athletic last year that will be hard to fill, but overall I feel like we're a stronger, more balanced team this year," Norman said.