Each day over the 2 1/2 weeks leading up to the 2019 IHSA football season, the News-Gazette will be previewing all 37 teams in its coverage area.
CHAMPAIGN — Much is new about Centennial football in 2019.
Kyle Jackson, a longtime assistant with the Chargers, along with stints at rivals Champaign Central and Urbana, is the new head coach after taking over for Lekevie Jackson in February.
And Jackson notes he doesn’t have an abundance of seniors after Centennial graduated 24 off last year’s team. Plenty of fresh faces will be in the mix for significant playing time.
That includes at starting quarterback following the departure of Dayton Coleman. He was among the area’s leading passers last season, throwing for 1,389 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Who will get the nod to take the offense’s reins?
Jackson isn’t quite sure, less than a week out from Friday’s 7 p.m. home opener against Peoria at Tommy Stewart Field in Champaign.
“We’re going to be up-tempo, no-huddle, spread out a little bit. We’re looking for a guy that is an athlete,” Jackson said, “that can both run the ball and throw the ball a little bit.”
The leading contenders at this stage are junior Deshawn Campbell and sophomore Jalen Coleman, Dayton’s younger brother.
“We’re going to probably take some lumps with some young guys that are learning,” Jackson said. “But, obviously, if Deshawn’s the guy, we got him for two more years. If Jalen’s the guy, we got him for three years. If they’re both kind of neck and neck and can both do it, that’s a plus.”
Neither Campbell nor Coleman is overly verbose when discussing the possibility of suiting up under center.
But it’s clear each kid sincerely wants his number called.
“Pretty exciting, to be honest,” Campbell said. “It’s a little bit of pressure, but it’s pretty good so far.”
“There’d be a lot of pressure on me,” Coleman added. “But I like that pressure, so it’ll be fun.”
Campbell hasn’t tried his hand at quarterback all that long, saying he’s in Year 2 at the position.
Campbell previously serving as a running back and watching Dayton Coleman under center gives Campbell confidence in at least a couple quarterbacking aspects.
“How to read more and how to scramble out of the pocket,” Campbell said. “I’ll get out of the pocket really quick.”
Jalen Coleman actually started the Chargers’ current preseason camp in the receiving corps before coming to an agreement with Jackson.
“He was struggling a little bit and, to some extent, I would say not taking everything as seriously as he should’ve been,” Jackson said. “He came to me and said, ‘Coach, I really want to play quarterback.’ ... Since that conversation, he’s been doing an outstanding job.”
Getting to not only observe his older sibling but also pick Dayton’s brain at home gives Jalen Coleman a unique advantage while vying for starting duties.
What’s the younger Coleman’s chief strength?
“Awareness,” he said. “I know where to throw the ball or how to read a defense.”
Jackson wouldn’t hint at which guy might be the favorite to call plays when Peoria comes to town next week.
“Both are still working on knowledge because it’s a new system,” Jackson said. “Deshawn, when he’s comfortable and feels like he knows it, looks pretty good. I think Jalen, at this point, knows everything a little bit better.”
No matter who comes out ahead for Week 1, Centennial should have a pair of young quarterbacks driving one another for the next couple seasons.
“It’s going to help me improve at the position,” Campbell said. “Most likely it’s going to help (Coleman) get better (too), and just when his time comes to start at quarterback he’ll do right.”
“We’ll get each other better and push each other to get to the next level,” Coleman added, “and when each of our times come we’ll be ready.”