CHAMPAIGN — Centennial is creating a protection plan for quarterback Jimmy Fitzgerald.
A year ago, Fitzgerald burst onto the prep scene by passing for 1,300 yards and attracting interest from major-college football coaches. Entering his junior year, he will be surrounded by more than a strong receiving corps.
Coach Mike McDonnell — the Chargers’ longest-tenured football head coach, entering his 17th season — has a solid offensive line that features two returning starters, tackle Devon Johnson and guard Torry Keleher.
Luc Bequette — the third transfer from St. Thomas More in two years (along with Fitzgerald and tailback Austin Maltbia — will be the center. Leland Jackson (tackle) and Kylan Dubose (guard) will help form a unit that averages nearly 228 pounds across the front.
Many of the pass catchers will be the same players who will find themselves in the secondary, including returning starter Dominic Stampley. Allen Terry and Julian Hess are capable of playing both ways. Tight end Steven Lee is a 210-pounder who will join Austin Saathoff as linebacking anchors. Ryan Grizzard and Aaron Quinn will be some of Fitzgerald’s other targets.
“We’re playing more people (both ways),” said McDonnell, who is seven wins from No. 100 for his career at the school, “but we’ll be subbing more people in during the game.”
McDonnell had the team vote on captains. Joining Saathoff are the two juniors who transferred a year ago from St. Thomas More, Fitzgerald and Maltbia.
A converted fullback, Maltbia “has improved his speed,” according to McDonnell. Saathoff is a fourth-year Charger whom the coach said “has worked his butt off and deserves to have a good year.”
Bequette fit right in.
“He has adjusted to the program very well and will be an outstanding player as a junior,” McDonnell said.
The 111 players in the Chargers’ program include 38 freshmen. Other returning defensive regulars are safeties Phil Hassell and Jeremiah Peoples along with linebacker Patrick Gibbons.
Centennial opens at 7 p.m. Friday against Decatur Eisenhower.