CHAMPAIGN — Kyle Jackson will certainly remember his Centennial football coaching debut.
Perhaps not for all the reasons the first-year leader of the Chargers would have envisioned.
But after suffering a 96-14 home loss to Big 12 foe Peoria in Week 1, Centennial returns to the turf at Tommy Stewart Field for a 7 p.m. kickoff Friday against Unit 4 rival Champaign Central.
Both Centennial (0-1, 0-1 Big 12) and Central (0-1) will strive for their first wins of the season, with the Chargers trying to move past the 82-point setback last Friday and refocus on the Maroons.
“Immediately after the game, I told the guys, ‘Well, that may be the worst loss I’ve ever taken,’” said Jackson, who is familiar with the C-U football scene after 12 seasons as an assistant at Centennial and two seasons apiece as an assistant coach at both Urbana and Central. “But I also told them right away how proud I was of their effort and their attitude. We didn’t have anybody that got down on each other. Nobody gave up. The sideline was involved the whole game, and before the game, I told them straight up, ‘That’s all I want.’ We continue to focus on that idea and that aspect.”
Inexperience is the Chargers’ biggest deficiency at the moment, according to Jackson.
“We had three guys on the field last Friday night who had any varsity experience before, so game-by-game, we learn about the speed,” Jackson said. “We’ve got a lot of growing to do, but part of that is just gaining experience. We’re proud of the way they handled themselves and dealt with a pretty bad loss. We’re going to continue to keep that mindset moving forward. If we can continue to keep building the culture we want, eventually the football will take care of itself and the wins will come.”
Despite the lopsided defeat, Jackson did see some positive growth from his team against Peoria. Sophomore Jack Young stood out to the Centennial coach with his aggressive play, while sophomore quarterback Jalen Coleman finished with 77 rushing yards and a touchdown on only six carries and sophomore linebacker Montez DuBose registered a team-high 13 tackles. Coleman and junior DeShawn Campbell split time at quarterback, with Campbell adding 35 rushing yards and a score on eight carries, but Centennial did not complete a pass in its 11 attempts during the season opener.
“As the game progressed and you go back and watch the film, we had some guys that, by the end of the game even, kind of fell into a bit of a rhythm and got used to the speed a little bit,” Jackson said. “Seeing some of our guys kind of wake up and grow a little bit just within that game, that was good. Now, it’s a matter of consistency and getting those things done every time. We have these moments. We need more of these moments to happen consistently and everyone doing them together.”
Jackson sure hopes consistency is apparent against the Maroons as Centennial vies for its first win in the series since 2016. And having Central on the Chargers’ schedule immediately following the loss to Peoria is an aspect Jackson welcomes.
“As much as we harp on getting better game-by-game, the kids are still in the back of their minds thinking, ‘Oh, this is Central week,’” Jackson said. “There’s also distractions involved with that, but coming off a week like we had last Friday, we’re playing a team that’s easy to get fired up about playing.”