Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 | 1 p.m.
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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer try to contain their excitement for the start of the football season enough to get through the first slate of games. They also discuss the two defending state champions, Bishop Gorman and Faith Lutheran.
Centennial had no problems drawing numbers in the weight room or drumming up energy in practices this offseason.
As soon as the Bulldogs got a glance at their schedule, a sense of purpose intuitively implanted in players’ brains. A season-opening tilt with rival Palo Verde beckoned.
“We like to see Palo early in the season because it gives us that motivation to carry us through the summer,” Centennial coach Leon Evans said. “It’s ‘Hey, Palo is on the schedule, so we better be ready to play week 1.’ It’s a huge rivalry.”
Most coaches use the cliché of the first game being the most important of the season. At Centennial, it might actually be true.
Bragging rights are on the line in a bitter rivalry that’s produced close games over the last three matchups. Centennial still feels the pain of losses in 2011 and 2013 and remembers the euphoria of a 2012 victory.
Asked what contest he’s most looking forward to before the season, senior tight end Joseph Ceniseros’ answer was predictable.
“I think it’s going to be that Palo game to start the season — just get us rolling to get us to start doing something that will carry us to the playoffs,” he said.
Getting Palo Verde at home is a boon for Centennial. The stands will be packed.
“I tell people all the time we have a Midwest feel about our stadium and our place over at Centennial where you get 3,000 4,000 or 5,000 people at a football game,” Evans said. “They come out and they’re loud and we have the (student section) Dawg Pound supporting us.”
Members of the crowd might find themselves out of their seats often this season. Centennial has arguably the toughest home schedule of any team in the valley.
It follows hosting Palo Verde with home games against Foothill and Legacy. Centennial closes the season with its other archrival and now-Northwest Division opponent Arbor View.
“We told our kids our goal this year is to win the division and to do that, you have to get past Arbor View,” Evans said. “And they are loaded, so we have to be ready when we see them.”
Centennial could be considered loaded in its own right. The Bulldogs are at least deserving of the description on defense, where they bring back seven starters.
The front seven is stacked with the leadership of senior defensive tackle Justin Shellard and senior linebacker Dieyon Scott. The offensive line is another strength, with seniors Andrew Miller and Jordan Lewis.
“In any offense, your offensive line is your key to winning,” Ceniseros said. “Running the ball and coming back to the passing time is big. We need to be able to pound it and come back to the passing game, which I think this year will be able to exploit those defenses real well.”
The key to Centennial’s season is not letting anyone exploit its defense. The Bulldogs’ defensive backfield is as strong as the front, with seniors Nick Humenik and Samuel Liaga.
Palo Verde won’t have it easy on Friday night.
“I have tons of respect for (Palo Verde) coach (Darwin) Rost,” Evans said. “I had the opportunity to play against him as a player as well as coach against him as a coach.”