2019 Preps football preview: Centennial

Centennial junior quarterback Jonathan Morris runs for a touchdown against Notre Dame Prep during the 2018 5A Championship Game on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

2018 RECORD: 14-1
PLAYOFFS: 5A State Champion
REGION: 5A Northwest
COACH: Richard Taylor (29th year)
OFFENSE: I formation, Spread
KEY RETURNEES: Jonathan Morris, Sr. QB; Jaydin Young, Sr. RB/DB/KR; Eric Haney, Sr. WR/DB; Dyelan Miller, Sr. WR; Xavier Garcia, Sr. DT; Oscar Abundis, Jr. OL; Caiden Miles, Jr. OT; Juaquin Rodriguez, Sr. K.
NEWCOMERS TO WATCH: Bryson Thomas, Jr. LB (moved in from Chicago); Dax Lindholm, Jr. RB.

Home games in caps

Sept. 6 MATER DEI (Calif.)
Sept. 13 at Cienega
Sept. 27 at Millennium
Oct. 4 at Apollo
Oct. 25 at Kellis
Nov. 1 at Sunrise Mountain

Matt Loeschman
West Valley Preps

Prep football seasons come and go but the expectation always remains the same for the Centennial Coyotes.

It’s state championship or bust.

It was “mission accomplished” in 2018 as Centennial steamrolled nearly all of its in-state opponents (and one from Nevada) en route to the Coyotes’ seventh overall state title and fourth championship in the past five seasons. As the Coyotes hit the practice field last week preparing for their Aug. 23 season opener against Queen Creek Casteel, Head Coach Richard Taylor took a little time to reflect on 2018 and look ahead to the potential of participating in an all-new playoff format.

“Last year was a fun year,” said Taylor, entering his 29th year as the only head varsity football coach in Centennial High School history. “We had tremendous senior leadership and everyone fell in line behind those guys.”

Following a 60-7 demolition of Notre Dame Prep in the 5A title game, the Coyotes played in the Geico Bowl to give their players a little more exposure to college football recruiters. It paid off as 14 Coyotes from the 2018 squad are now playing somewhere at the collegiate level — but that means there are positions to fill as the new season begins.

“Right now, I’d say the offense is ahead of the defense in our practices but the defense has made big strides in the last week,” Taylor explained. “We were fortunate that we were able to get so many players some varsity game experience last season, those guys are back and saying ‘I’ve done this before.’ They won’t be intimidated when the lights come on.”

Senior quarterback Jonathan Morris likes what he sees so far from the 2019 Coyotes.

“Our chemistry is improving,” Morris said. “We are working together and looking solid. It’s going to be a fun season.”

Do-it-all senior running back/defensive back/kick returner Jaydin Young said the hard work and sweat put it during the summer will pay off soon.

“This heat makes us get used to being in uncomfortable situations so we can adapt during the season,” said Young, the 2018 West Valley Preps overall Player of the Year. “But I like what I’m seeing. Underclassmen are stepping up.”

On offense, it all starts in the trenches.

The Coyotes lost two tremendously talented linemen from the 2018 squad but a pair of sophomores from that team return as juniors to anchor the front line. Oscar Abundis and Caiden Miles will join senior George Roeder III to protect Morris and pave the way for a bevy of talented backs.

“Their improvement in the offseason has been pretty outstanding,” Taylor said of the offensive line.

Young showed his electrifying ability with several highlight reel plays last season. He scored 15 total touchdowns and also nabbed three interceptions on defense.Young will get his touches at running back along with senior Marc Jacob, speedy junior Dax Lindholm and others.

“We feel like we have four or five guys who will be ready to go,” Taylor said.

Young said he’s going to shine wherever he is on the field.

“I’m going to play my role to the best of my ability,” he noted.

At wide receiver, the Coyotes return a pair of experienced players in Dyelan Miller and Eric Haney. Each got significant playing time in 2018 — Miller hauled in six scores while Haney added four — and Haney also starts in the defensive secondary.

Expect senior Andre Dimbiti to become a contributor as well.

Centennial is set under center with the veteran Morris calling the signals. The calm competitor was responsible for more than 20 scores in 2018 and threw just four interceptions.

“Jon should be even better this year,” Taylor said. “He’s a humble kid and he hasn’t let last year’s success go to his head. I think Jon has really improved on reading coverages, too. He’s worked hard to get stronger and faster.”

Morris said he is looking forward to his senior campaign.

“Having a year of starting experience is going to help me tremendously,” he said. “I’ve been working hard to get better. I am more into the playbook now and I feel like I’m starting to help others around me improve as well — this offense has weapons across the board.”

Defensively, seniors Xavier Garcia and Derek Jodarski return on the line while Coyote fans will see some new faces at linebacker. Mathew Hernandez returns from an injury that sidelined him in 2018 and newcomer Bryson Thomas, a move-in from Chicago, is also penciled in to start.

Young and Haney will lead a ball-hawking defensive secondary.

“This group will have some newcomers but I’m confident they will step up,” Taylor said.

Juaquin Hernandez returns at kicker and has lost about 40 pounds in the offseason, according to Taylor. Punting is expected to be handled by Brendan James.

Centennial’s 2019 schedule is bookended with tough matchups. The Coyotes are expected to rule the 5A Northwest Region with Apollo, Sunnyslope, Ironwood, Kellis and Sunrise Mountain also fighting the playoff spots in the six-team loop.

In non-region play, the Coyotes will face Queen Creek Casteel, Vail Cienega, Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge and Millennium. The schedule is identical to last year but the game sites are all reversed.

“We are focused on Casteel,” said Taylor. “But in our region, there could possibly be three other teams that make the playoffs. I think, top to bottom, the Northwest Region is stronger than it was last year.”

Casteel will be tough in Week 1 and after a bye, the marquee matchup is set for Week 3 — Sept. 6 — when Santa Ana (Ca.) Mater Dei travels to Peoria. The Monarchs are two-time defending national champions, 11-time California state champs and considered the benchmark for successful prep football programs in America.

“It’s exciting to play Mater Dei,” said Taylor, whose Coyotes have knocked off national powers Bishop Gorman of Nevada and St. Thomas Aquinas of Florida the past two seasons. “Whatever happens, this will be something our kids can talk about the rest of their lives. This game will give us the opportunity to really see where we are at.”

Morris agreed.

“Looking forward to that one,” the quarterback admitted.

Young called the Mater Dei clash “a tremendous opportunity to show what Arizona high school football is all about.”

The road to another state title could look much different in 2019. The Arizona Interscholastic Association has introduced an open division for the top 8 teams in 4A-6A, based on a computer formula, to battle it out in a “super tournament” to crown the best of the best.

The 5A Coyotes expect to be in that mix along with such powerhouses as 6A Chandler and 4A Scottsdale Saguaro. Taylor admitted he prefers a system that takes the champions from each classification pitted against each other in a four-team format.

Both Young and Morris are excited about possibly playing friends from the East Valley.

“I train with some of those guys so it would be cool to match up against them,” Morris said. “Best of the best competition is what we like.”

Centennial junior Jaydin Young returns a kickoff for a touchdown against Higley during a 5A semifinal game on Nov. 16, 2018 at Willow Canyon High School in Surprise. Young, a safety, tailback and kickoff returner, is the West Valley Preps overall player of the year. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

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