Colors: Black and Vegas Gold
Total Returning Lettermen: 13
2017 Overall Record: 8-3
Head Coach: Brad Dixon
Years at School: 7 as head coach
Record at School: 64-16
Overall Record: 64-16
UP EARLY TO UPRISE: WEAPON-RICH PANTHERS PROFILE AS AN ELITE FOOTBALL POWER
WHEN LAST WE SAW CAMP POINT CENTRAL: The Panthers were dejectedly hunting silver linings in the aftermath of yet another playoff ouster at the hands of the Carrollton Hawks; this one perhaps the unkindest cut of all. A failed two point conversion at game’s end the implement of Central’s demise. A tough pill to swallow given the circumstance (and the repeat tormentor) but one that should only have momentarily obscured the broader storyline in play; that the 2017 Central Panthers actually “arrived” a year ahead of schedule and now are now positioned as the presumptive WIVC North Favorite and most promising Thanksgiving Weekend threat in West Central Illinois. Returning fourteen total starters from a “green” squad that found its way to 8-3 a year ago tends to really up the ante on expectations.
THE TREASURE TROVE: “You really think Central will be that good, Duerr? Because they have a lot of good Running Backs?? Dude they have that every year..”
Truer words never spoken. By the same token, I can’t remember a time when the assortment of those typical Central calling cards has been so diverse and intriguing and worrisome for opponents. Follow me here. Cole Williams is the only returning All-State Running Back in Western Illinois; a kid who rushed for 1146 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. By definition, a resume that would seem to suggest Franchise Back, no? And yet Cole’s 133 carries last season represented just 27% of the Panthers total rushing workload last Fall. So you are telling me Central has this impeccably credentialed workhorse to lead the offenseand Casey Rhea is only giving him the ball on a quarter of his teams carries? That smacks of under-utilization of an elite asset, relatively speaking, doesn’t it? From one of the region’s most successful Offensive Coordinators in our region over the last seven years. So ask yourself, why aren’t the Panthers giving the ball to Williams more? Exactlybecause they don’t have the imperative given the other equally viable and impressive options around him. Chayse Houston is coming off a 93 carry season that saw him amass 676 yards and 8 touchdowns. Noah Strohkirch is back after 105 totes and 633 yards of his own from the Fullback Spot. That is one whale of a Wing-T set up but there’s plenty of scuttlebutt out of Camp Point that underclassmen Morgan Bonk, Brandon Rossmiller, Clayton Boehler and Jaxon Mueller are all going to command Varsity Totes perhaps from the jump in an every evolving phalanx of attacking Panther backs. The modus operandi here is going to be running defenses ragged with as many fresh, fast, strong legs as Central can infuse into the mix. They are going to mix and match on defenses with a wide assortment of styles and speeds that could well make last year’s 299 ground yards per game average look tame by compare. And heaven helped the totally gassed eleven opposing kids who have to try and make tackles against same in the fourth quarter of a meaningful game. Spoiler Alert: that depth is hardly limited to just the Central Backfield. And that is one of the biggest reasons to buy on Central across the board in 2018. But more on that below..
WINGING it WITHIN IN THE WING-T: While the embarrassment of Running Back Riches figures to be storyline Number One in every Preseason assessment of Camp Point Central, don’t sleep on this squad’s heightened ability to counter-balance their bread and butter ground game with an elevated air attack. Granted, the Panthers averaged a paltry 66 passing yards per game last season but I sense that Brad Dixon and Casey Rhea have evolved their willingness to put the ball in the air over the last few years to greater cause of loosening up run defenses all too willing to sell out in the box against them. Moreover, the return of Quarterback Eric Jones is inducement alone to unbalance opponents with more play-action attempts. Jones may have amassed just 557 passing yards a year ago but his strong arm (see also his pitching prowess on the diamond) and his all business demeanor command a lot of internal confidence. He’s a smart tough kid with the ability to roll out and deliver to his targets. He’s also a perfectly capable drop back passer who can go over the top on an opponent who has been lulled into run-first lethargy. Moreover, Jones has been afforded some sneaky good targets with which to work. Tristan Brocksieck had just a dozen receptions a year ago, but the sure handed Tight End converted a third of those into end zone forays. He’s a kid who finds his into soft spots in coverage and is “catchier” than the flu with very certain hands. The Panthers might have their best group of pass-catching running backs since the Saldana Era, with the unbelievably fluid Cole Williams (360 receiving yards a year ago) leading the charge.
BUBBA THUMP: If you forced me to state an area of concern with the Central Offense, it guess it would have to be an Offensive Line that welcomes in three new starters. In full disclosure, however, I can’t muster much in the way of agita here. Center Kollen “Bubba” Hughes is one of the best in the business; a hulking 290 pounder with better dexterity and athleticism than you should reasonably expect for kid of that size. He’s savvy to boot and last year started to look like a guy who relished finishing off his blocks. Lance Van Zandt will return at one guard to flank Hughes and Bryce Flesner, who got spot duty as a starter as Junior, will bring mobility and hustle to the other guard spot. Central could go a number of different directions at Tackle. Jackson Green is a returning Senior who will compete for reps. The Panthers could profile as an even bigger group up front if Juniors Remington Buehler (6’ 320lbs) and Marcus Bunch (6’2” 260lbs) win jobs. Ditto for Julius Sharrow at Guard. These Panthers could have the marked cornered on imposing, if the right pieces fall into place.
NOAH’S ARC: There is no more unassuming looking superstar in Tri-State Football than Noah Strohkirch; the inspirational 5’8” 155 pound tackle machine who notched 108 stops a year ago to center the Central Linebacker corps. He’s the Panthers answer to Ant-Man, scraping through blocking schemes undetected and instinctually finding the best possible pursuit angles to the football. And he’s as certain a wrap up as you will find in our region, which defies explanation if you saw him in street clothes. Proof positive to that work ethic, intelligence and hustle carry you a long way in this world. Pound for pound, you won’t find a more effective Inside Linebacker. And Brad Dixon employs him with absolute faith and fearlessness.
TACKLE, INCORPORATED: Aside from Strohkirch, the Panthers return six other players who notched 50 or more tackles a year ago. Cole Williams, who might actually be a better DB than he is a running back (no small compliment) had 66 stops at Free Safety. Truth be told, while Williams looms as an extra Linebacker in run support, I actually value his ability to contest the passing lanes even more because few High School kids read the thrown ball better. He grabbed four interceptions last season and broke up five other passes. And if you could clone him legally, Brad Dixon probably would have eleven of him on the field at any one time.
Chayse Houston (66 stops) and Eric Jones (68 tackles) flank Strohkirch in the middle of CPC’s Five Backer Rotation. What that group lacks in size, it makes up for in mobility. Tristan Brocksieck returns to helm one of the Outside Linebacker spots and Dixon considers him the spiciest hitter on the roster. Don’t sleep on Collin Sally, who could well emerge as the other OLB of gravity given his ability to run and hit as well.
CAUSES FOR CONCERN: Beyond the luminous Williams, who might just the best two-way football player in our area in 2018, the Panthers Secondary is a mystery. Expect Logan Tullock, Brandon Rossmiller, and Morgan Bonk to be candidates for reps but until we see them under live bullets, this is the one gnawing pivot point that gives pause. Especially in a league where passing is becoming more prevalent in the wake of Carrollton and Unity/Payson’s recent successes.
The Panthers have two uber-productive Defensive Tackles in Kollen Hughes (58 stops, 4 Tackles for Loss) and Bryce Flesner (59 tackles) to build around, but no set rotation of complimentary players to employ in their orbit just yet. Again, as with the Offensive Line, I think Central is just fine here given the depth of options but keeping Linebackers clean is the most critical job duty in Central Football and I’d like to see that put into application before I mark out.
More esoterically, this group of Panthers doesn’t have a great track record for closing, especially in money games in a number of different sports. And until they do win one, especially one of those games where the stakes are soaring and the collars get tight, that will remain an outside knock against this crew. Fairly or unfairly, you are judged in this world by what you do under extreme fire. Those whispers are out there about them. Let’s see how it motivates them to answer.
THE DUERR DIAGNOSIS: On paper, and likely in application: the best Football Team in Western Illinois and just a notch below Monroe City and Clark County on the list of overall elite squads in Tri-State Football. Brad Dixon says this group has great work ethic and leadership and when coupled with this kind of reserve of talent, that is the recipe for something truly special. I’ve got CPC winning the WIVC North and going 9-0 this season. Beyond that, it’s all about luck, health, and draw. These guys have a lot to prove and a couple years-worth of Playoff Disappointment to exorcise this Fall. My gut tells me they’ve got a fighting chance to smother anyone in 1A Football on a given night defensively; given the reserves of fleet and feisty here. And elite Defense tends to win championships. There’s not a one of those out there not within their grasp if everything falls right. Happy hunting, boys.