Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013 | 2:45 p.m.
Prep Sports Now returns from hibernation just in time for football season. Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer go through every league and discuss every team in town, giving predictions along and players to watch along the way.
Lantz Worthington is tired of hearing about it.
Yes, Worthington knows his Centennial Bulldogs lost a staggering 35 seniors after last year’s best season in school history. No, the preseason All-Sun selection doesn’t foresee a drop-off in production from his young teammates who are taking over for the departed standouts.
“They’ve stepped up and made sure they’re ready to play at that level from the seniors who left,” Worthington said.
Worthington, a senior this year, is craving the taste of success he experienced last year as the valley’s best kick returner and an all-purpose offensive threat. The Bulldogs made it their goal to reach the Sunset Regional finals in 2012, which they achieved with a 9-3 overall record.
The season was full of highs including breaking prolonged losing streaks to their two foremost rivals, Palo Verde and Arbor View. Centennial coach Leon Evans is pleased with the strides his team has made in an effort for a successful encore, but he’s also realistic about the exodus.
“It’s huge losing that much,” Evans admits. “Because not only was it 35 players, but 80 percent of those were really good players.”
In his decade-plus term as a high school football coach in the area, Evans says he has never had to replace as much as he does this season. But if most coaches could handpick three types of players they have back on any given year they’d choose an experienced quarterback, a big-play threat and a defensive leader.
The only one Evans is missing is the quarterback. Worthington easily fulfills the second example, as he scored 10 touchdowns despite a limited role last season.
“He’s such a dynamic athlete,” Evans said of Worthington. “Any time he touches the ball, he can go for 60 on you. What people also don’t realize is he’s powerful and he has great hands. We’re going to do a lot with him offensively.”
On defense, Centennial returns tackling machine Toby Lopez. The 5-foot-8, 190-pound senior seemingly made every play on the field last season, racking up 126 tackles.
In the rare instance when Lopez wasn’t involved in a stop, odds are fellow senior linebacker Josh Gray made up for his absence. Lopez and Gray make up one of the best linebacker units in the city.
“It’s a blessing,” Evans said. “Those are both first-class guys. They don’t only make plays, they get people lined up and work well with the defensive line.”
Evans spoke highly of the young talent surrounding Lopez and Gray, but the question will be how quickly they can reach their potential. The same can be applied to the offense, where 6-foot-2, 270-pound lineman Nate Gifford joins Worthington as a leader.
Centennial won’t have the luxury of easing into the season as it travels to San Diego to face California’s JSerra Catholic High in Friday’s first game. But Evans gets the sense his team is ready mentally.
He’s overheard players echo Worthington’s thoughts that it’s time to move past who’s missing.
“It’s been a rallying cry for the young kids,” Evans said. “They’ve heard we aren’t going to be very good because of what we lost and what we don’t have. They want to prove everyone wrong.”