Head Coach Richard Taylor has literally seen it all at Centennial High School.
As the only head football coach in school history, Taylor has seen his squads take home seven state titles while he has claimed more than 300 career coaching victories.
But the past two seasons, Taylor has seen the highly-seeded Coyotes bounced in the quarterfinal round of the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s open division playoffs — the elite bracket pitting the eight best teams in the 6A-4A conferences, up against each other.
When you expect to play for championships every season, 2019 and 2020 were a pair of bitter pills to swallow for Centennial.
“The system is what it is,” Taylor explained. “If we make it to the ‘elite eight,’ that’s quite an honor. We just have to do a better job once we get there.”
The motivation is everywhere — on the locker room walls, in the way the Coyotes players speak — they want to get back to where they are accustomed after a two-year hiatus.
“The kids are hungry to get back to that championship level. You can see that,” Taylor said on Aug. 17, Centennial’s first day practicing in pads for their season opener at top-ranked Chandler on Sept. 3. “I’m excited about this team’s possibilities.”
Taylor called the 2021 Coyotes talented but full of youth. He said the younger players have stepped up as far as leadership is concerned.
One player with some experience under his belt is junior quarterback Austin Glimpse, who returns to lead the Coyotes offense after getting spot duty at the varsity level as a sophomore.
“Bigger, stronger, faster — still with that big arm,” Taylor said.
Glimpse played in three games and threw a pair of touchdowns, including a 60-yard strike against Pinnacle.
“Having that experience as a sophomore, that’s going to help me tremendously,” Glimpse said. “I know what to expect when I get out there. We know the offense better and we are more mature in the backfield.”
Taylor agreed. Glimpse is now about 6 feet 5 and 220 pounds, with muscle added to go with a rifle arm.
“Austin played in big games and at times looked really sharp,” the head coach said. “He just looks so much more comfortable now.”
The Coyotes’ biggest offensive strength is in the backfield, where senior James Scott and junior Kavaughn Clark return, one of the top running back duos in the state.
Last season, Clark rushed for 968 yards and 11 touchdowns while Scott added 589 yards and eight scores on the ground.
“Both of them are hard workers and both are team oriented,” Taylor said. “About three-quarters of the way through last season, we figured out we need to have them on the field at the same time.”
Centennial junior defensive end Quinton Johnson pulls down a Phoenix Brophy Prep player during the Coyotes’ 35-3 win Nov. 6 in Peoria. [Courtesy Jennifer Boyle]
Clark cannot wait for Week 1.
“I do have personal goals but I want to win a state championship,” he said. “Everyone now seems 100% more confident and back to the Centennial way of doing things — but we’ve got to have that ‘finish’ mentality. There is a chip on our shoulder and we are very hungry.”
Senior Javier Narvaez will provide depth at running back.
At wideout, the Coyotes are inexperienced but the coaches are raving about senior Drew Lopez, who could be a breakout player on this year’s team. He is joined by senior Elijah Sports-Trott, junior Demari Washington and sophomores Ricky Munoz and Noah Carter.
The unit most affected by graduation is the offensive line. Junior Anthony Chacon returns at center and is joined by senior guard Braven Lessard, who has varsity experience. The rest of the group is a work in progress, with a lot to be determined in an Aug. 20 scrimmage.
One newcomer of note is 6-4, 320-pound Sierra Linda transfer Tony “Tank” Servin. Since his former school in the Tolleson district did not play last year, Servin may be eligible for all or most of the season.
“We won’t be as big, but we will be quicker,” Taylor said.
Scott is looking forward to running behind the revamped line.
“They’re going to be phenomenal,” he said. “I love playing with those dudes — I’m not worried about them one bit.”
Both specialist positions are covered by returning juniors Brysen Gardner (kicker) and Dylan Conn (punter). Sophomore Iverson Small, a transfer from Shadow Ridge, will join at mid-season and is expected to return kicks and punts.
When it comes to defense, Taylor is quick to mention junior defensive tackle Dylan Roberts. The 275-pound junior tackle already has offers from Arizona, California and NAU and interest from Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
“Big, talented and smart,” Taylor said. “He’s the anchor.”
Roberts said after Centennial’s first practice in pads he is not concerned about the team’s youth.
“Doesn’t make a difference,” Roberts said. “We may have a little less athletically, but the team bond is the strongest it’s been since I’ve been here. I feel like that will help us in the long run and I have a very good feeling about this year.”
Other defensive leaders are senior defensive end Quinton Johnson, senior defensive back Marvaun Green and senior linebacker Christian Cabello.
Washington (five interceptions in 2020) is expected to play ironman football — safety and wide receiver.
As usual, the Coyotes’ schedule is among the toughest in the state including Hamilton, who knocked Centennial out of the open bracket in 2019.
Centennial is back in the same tough Desert Valley region that includes Pinnacle, Brophy, Chaparral and crosstown rival Liberty. The Coyotes’ first three region games are all away from home.
Five-time defending champion Chandler starts the season off with the sternest test.
“I prefer it that way,” admitted Taylor. “What good does it do to beat someone by 50 points? This way, we learn right away what we need to work on.”
Glimpse, like his teammates, is ready to compete for Centennial’s eighth state title.
“It motivates us every single day,” the quarterback said. “We want it badly.”
If Centennial does achieve its “Great 8,” youth will truly be served.
“Just because you’re young doesn’t mean you still can’t be really, really good,” Taylor said.