Chargers upbeat about new season

Chargers upbeat about new season

CHAMPAIGN — They had been waiting all summer for this moment. Ahead of the Centennial football team's photo day, it finally arrived.

Some of the Charger athletes were milling about just beyond Tommy Stewart Field, waiting to get their picture taken. Fresh turf had been laid earlier in the week, finally getting the venue to playing condition after an offseason of uncertainty amid major renovations.

But none of these boys had stepped foot on their new-look digs. So the youngsters approached some of the men performing maintenance on the field.

"I figured if we asked the guys who were working on it and got the OK from them, we could (go on the turf)," senior Tyson Burton said. "I don't know if our coaches even knew about that, to be honest."

One affirmative response later and a small group of athletes clad in powder blue and white stormed onto a confined segment of the gridiron.

Some did backflips.

Others snapped an image on their phone.

All involved were absolutely thrilled.

It's that upbeat energy Centennial is hoping will reverse a rough 2017 campaign, in which the Chargers posted a 2-7 record.

"Team camaraderie is great this year compared to other years," senior Robbie Pulliam said. "That's half the battle to have a great year. From what I can see, we're going to have a pretty good year."

Fourth-year coach Lekevie Johnson acknowledged that team chemistry is at a high point for Centennial. And the squad is receiving a little extra push from the changes to Tommy Stewart Field.

"I think the kids are (excited about the renovation)," Johnson said. "My mindset is, 'Let's win some football games.' (But) we've got a new field, so why not be excited about that? We'll use that as a level of motivation as well."

The Chargers' first chance to succeed on their turf comes in Week 2 against crosstown rival Champaign Central. That'll follow Centennial's Aug. 24 opener at Peoria.

Johnson is most looking forward to unveiling his revamped group of linemen up front, especially after the Chargers only averaged 12.2 points per game last season.

"We're excited about the O-line," Johnson said. "It's something that's plagued us the last couple years. Carson Gates, Leavell Allen, Ray-Heem Jackson, those guys are going to be huge up front for us."

Johnson isn't ready to reveal his starting quarterback just yet, only saying that junior Tiler Peacock, along with seniors Dontaice Roberson and Dayton Coleman, are competing for the role. But he feels Burton, a 6-foot-4 receiver and defensive back, can be a Division I athlete. Johnson also expects big things from senior rusher/defensive back Anterio Allen, senior receiver/defensive back Devyon Coleman and senior receiver/defensive back Jastin Butts-Lugar.

"Our guys understand what's at stake," Johnson said. "We had a rough season last year. We want to bounce back from that."

That sentiment certainly is shared by the Chargers. And whenever they're in Champaign, they're counting on an extra boost from their surroundings.

"I think having that turf field (at home) sets a different mood and atmosphere," Burton added. "We all get excited to play on it now."



Aug. 24 at Peoria 7 p.m.

 Aug. 31 vs. Champaign Central 7 p.m.

Sept. 7 vs. Richwoods 7 p.m.

Sept. 14 at Danville 7 p.m.

Sept. 22 *vs. Peoria Notre Dame 10 a.m.

Sept. 28 at Urbana 7 p.m.

Oct. 5 at Lincoln-Way Central 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 12 vs. Normal Community 7 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Bloomington 7 p.m.

*At Memorial Stadium, Champaign