By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
The Indians have heard the talk.
They know that a lot of people don’t give them much of a chance to have much success this season.
“You hear everyone saying its going to be a down year,” Madison Central senior offensive lineman Tyler Rice said. “That we will win maybe two games. You’ve just got to use that as motivation to get better.”
It’s not hard to see why expectations are so low.
The Indians lost almost every player from last season who got any significant playing time at the varsity level.
And this year’s team has only 11 seniors, most of which have never started a game in high school.
“It’s kind of like a whole new team,” Rice said.
The turnover has been tremendous.
Lots of young, inexperienced players will be asked to step into starting roles and Central coach Bert Browne knows there will be some serious growing pains.
Still, he’s very optimistic.
“We had a great offseason in the weight room,” Browne said. “We had a great spring. There’s just going to be a learning curve. Any time you have to start as many young kids as we are going to start, that’s going to happen. We are counting on a lot of guys we didn’t count on last year.”
Led by 25 seniors, the Indians won seven games last season and finished with a winning record for the first time since 2008.
They also won a playoff game for the first time in four years.
But, most of the players who were in the starting lineup in that first-round victory over DuPont Manual are gone.
This year’s depth chart is dominated by sophomores and juniors at almost every position.
“We’ve got a bunch of young kids,” Rice said. “We’ve got three running backs who really haven’t gotten a lot of varsity time. We’ve got a new quarterback and receivers — most everyone is new at the skill positions. Hopefully we can come together and do some things.”
Rice is one of three starters back from last season. The senior offensive lineman jumped into the lineup after Christian Carter went down with an injury mid-way through the year.
Even though he’s undersized for an offensive lineman, the senior is a tremendous competitor.
“He’s a tenacious guy,” Browne said of Rice. “He’s 5-foot-8, maybe, on a good day.”
Keonta Goggins was a starter last season at defensive end and is the only returning starter back for the Indians.
The senior had 37 tackles last season.
“He’s got an ankle injury. But, he does a good job,” Browne said of Goggins. “He’s a tough kid. He’s going to have to make some plays for us.”
Junior tight end Sam Jones emerged as an offensive threat last season. He caught 13 passes in eight games and had 204 yards and three touchdowns.
The 6-foot-3 standout scored the Indians only touchdown in a scrimmage last week against Pulaski County.
“Sam is a big target,” Browne said. “He’s got to be 100 miles an hour all the time. He can get people off of him and catch the football.”
Caleb McClurg is the Indians top returning rusher from last season. The senior had 16 carries for 84 yards and a touchdown. He also caught 15 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown.
McClurg, who will start at fullback, and Jones are really the only returning players who contributed offensively at all last season.
Two sophomores and a freshman are still battling to see who will lead that offense. Kameron Presnell (sophomore), Zach Hardin (freshman) and Aaron Slone (sophomore) have each impressed the coaching staff in the offseason.
“Right now, the No. 1 quarterback is Kameron Presnell,” Browne said. “He did a good job (in the scrimmage against Pulaski County) and did some things with his legs too.”
Presnell is the quickest of the Central quarterbacks and has the ability to scramble out of the pocket.
He will likely start against Harlan County in the season opener, but Hardin and Slone will probably play as well.
“That’s the pecking order now, but that doesn’t mean that’s going to be the pecking order all year,” Browne said. “That’s the one position you want a lot of competition.”
In addition to McClurg, the Indians have some other backs with some limited varsity experience.
Junior Jonathan Tye played in four games last season and had 38 rushes, including a touchdown. Sophomore Korrion Crier saw action in three games and had seven carries.
Sophomore Johan Williams, who is also battling for playing time at tailback, did not get any varsity playing time last season.
In addition to Jones, the Indians will look to three sophomores and a junior to be the top targets at wide receiver.
John Williams (sophomore), Auston Campbell (sophomore), Kody Kidd (sophomore) and Nathan Coots (junior) have basically no varsity experience, but have shown great potential.
“John is just exceptional,” Brown said of Williams. “He does a great job. He’s got to become a better blocker, but he catches the ball well.”
The Indians have good size on both sides of the line.
Sophomores Will Ulmer (6-foot-5, 275) and junior Brandon Campbell (6-foot-6, 275) will anchor the offensive line at the tackle positions. Senior Logan Thomas, Rice and senior Tyson Gregory will be in the middle for the Indians.
On the defensive line, Goggins and Jones will start at end with sophomore Joe Sallee and Jeffery Robinson will line up a tackle and nose guard.
“Those guys have gotten a lot stronger over the past year,” Browne said of the linemen. “So, hopefully that will help make things happen.”
Junior Brandon Nothern, senior Tyler Conner, senior Clay Jordan and Tye will see most of the action at linebacker, while sophomores Dante Altamirano and Blake Gross will start at the corners.
Presnell and junior Will Hinton are Central’s top safeties.
Ben Durham returns to handle the placekicking duties. The senior connected on four field goals last year and also added seven extra points.
Durham gives the Indians a reliable kicker, something they have not had recently.
“Over the years, we’ve probably lost five games because we couldn’t kick extra points,” Browne said.
With so many young players in the lineup, Browne knows his team will take its lumps, especially against state powerhouses like Scott County and Lexington Catholic.
But, that’s fine.
The Indians postseason seeding will be determined by the results of their district games — and those are the final three games on the schedule.
“By that time, no one is a puppy,” Browne said. “They’ve been in the fire.”