INDEPENDENCE -- Central returns a large number of starters from the football team that advanced to the state semifinals in 2007.
The Panthers have experience and talent on offense and defense. They have gifted players on the line and in the backfield. They have a respected crew of coaches along the sideline.
In short, these guys are loaded.
"We've got a lot of potential coming back," Central coach Shane Hedrick said. "We're very, very excited about that. This probably is one of the best high school teams I've had to open the season with. At the same time, the bar has been raised. We've got to step up and meet those challenges.
"We're not going to sneak up on anybody this year. Everybody's going to come at us with their A game every time we step on the field."
Two of the most prominent returnees for the Panthers are quarterback Grant Hedrick and running back Casey Connor. The duo have been around the program since they were ballboys.
Hedrick, the coach's son, is entering his third season as the starter at quarterback.
"I'm very pleased with his development," Shane Hedrick said. "One year makes a huge difference. As we've gone through fall camp, I've been very pleased and even a little in awe over some of the things he's done. It'll be very interesting to see how he does against an opponent."
Connor, a senior, hurt his knee in the season-ending loss to Marist last season. After recovering, he hit the weight room with dad and brother Mike Sr. and Mike Jr. and added about 30 pounds of muscle, going from about 180 pounds to 210.
"Casey really shot up," Hedrick said. "He worked really hard in the weight room during the off-season. We had a scrimmage Friday, and I was very pleased with his speed. He was really solid last year as a junior at 178. I'm really excited to see how he carries the ball at 210 as a senior."
The Panthers also have two dangerous and fleet-footed targets at the wide receiver position in Eric Phillips and Michael Hamilton.
"This is the third year (as starters) for both of them," Hedrick said. "They both had very solid junior years. They both have some big games ahead of them."
Brandon Whiteman, Erik Omlid, Travis Tallon and Jesse Pratt also will be in the mix at wide receiver. Jesse Peters and Marcus McArdle will split time at tight end.
Ricky Cedillo started at linebacker last season and is expected to add fullback duties to his resume in 2008.
"He's filling the shoes of John Pratt," Hedrick said. "Fullback is such an important position for us. They don't get to carry the ball a lot, but when they do it's usually a big play. Ricky's a big-play kind of kid. I'm glad to have him there."
Tackle Marcus Cuellar earned all-state honors last season as a junior and will anchor the line for Central on both sides of the ball. He is a legitimate 300-pounder.
Other experienced hands up front include guard Sergio Trujillo and tackle Thomas Demelo. Jacob Girard will start at center with Allen Miller at the other guard position.
On defense, Ryan O'Daniel will see time at tackle along with Cuellar. Peters and David Olson are expected to start at the end positions with Cedillo, Connor and Whiteman at linebacker.
Hamilton and Phillips will play in the defensive secondary along with Tallon, J.T. Tirado and Adam Warner.
"Our goal would be to play to our potential," Hedrick said. "If we reach our potential, we'll be playing late into November and hopefully into December. We have a very good football team coming back. If we don't play to our potential, we'll be very disappointed."
Central has a rather unique schedule this season. After playing three homes games at Western Oregon, the Panthers will play "home" games at Linfield in McMinnville and Willamette in Salem.
Western Oregon has elected to not let CHS use McArthur Field on days before the Wolves play. The measure is tended to protect the natural grass turf at McArthur and eventually could help fuel the drive for Central to get its own on-campus stadium.
"Western Oregon has gone from NAIA to Division II," Hedrick said. "They're playing a much different style of football now. They've been very gracious to let us use their field. But they need a better field to play on. There's not another high school team in the state playing on a college's grass field. It just doesn't happen. On Saturday, when they have a game, it just doesn't work for us to play there on Friday."
Head coach: Shane Hedrick (ninth year)
Assistants: Aaron Shinkle, Mark Hawley, Mike Connor, Duke Iverson, Bryan Carroll, Sam Thompson, Mark Roper, Shaun Bavaro, Mark Bavaro, Jorge Campos, Mike Connor Jr.
2007 record: 9-3 overall, 4-0 in Val-Co Conference
2007 finish: Lost 35-21 to Marist in the Class 4A semifinals
Returning starters: QB-P Grant Hedrick, RB Casey Connor, T Marcus Cuellar, FB-LB Ricky Cedillo, WR Michael Hamilton, WR Eric Phillips, G Sergio Trujillo, DB Brandon Whiteman, RB J.T. Tirado, T Thomas Demelo, K Roman Daberkow