INDEPENDENCE -- For the 2009 football season, Central perhaps should change its nickname from "Panthers" to "Nomads."
The Panthers long have played their home games at Western Oregon and still are a year away from having their own on-campus stadium. Financial constraints currently make it difficult to pay the rental fee at WOU. Current plans thusly call for Central to play two "home" games at Willamette University in Salem, one at WOU, one at Central and one at, yes, Sweet Home.
Additionally, the team's schedule this year includes trips to Marist, Estacada, Astoria, Newport and Philomath.
"We've got to become road warriors," said CHS coach Shane Hedrick. "We're going to be on the road a lot. We go to Marist, to Astoria, to Estacada and to Newport, who's going to be much-improved this year. We need to travel well and keep our focus to be successful on the road."
Central's last road game was a forgettable 56-35 loss to eventual state champion Astoria in the 2008 Class 4A state semifinals at Liberty High School. The Panthers had been ranked No. 1 pretty much all season until stubbing their toe against Astoria and quarterback-defensive back Jordan Poyer, who later was named the 4A player of the year on offense and defense.
"We certainly want to take the things that were teachable moments from 2008 and move into 2009," Hedrick said. "We started that in spring. You have to take things you can improve on and focus on them. The thing we've tried to emphasize is that we've got to work hard as a team and be less concerned with individual goals."
One Panther who already has reached one of his major goals is senior Grant Hedrick, the team's quarterback and the son of the head coach. Grant Hedrick is entering his third season as a starter. He passed for 5,847 yards and rushed for 22 touchdowns the past two seasons. During the summer, he made a verbal commitment to attend school and play football at Boise State.
"The biggest thing I'd like to see is for him to have a fun and memorable senior year," Shane Hedrick said. "There are a lot of expectations for him all over the country now that he's a Division I athlete. I'd just like to put all that on the shelf and let him enjoy his senior year in football and basketball and whatever else he wants to do in the spring."
Central is set at quarterback, but there are some questions about the surrounding class. The Panthers graduated a huge senior class last year and have only three returning starters on offense and defense.
Guard Allan Miller is the lone returnee in the offensive front.
"Allen is one of the best leaders we've had in the offensive line in the last 10 years," Hedrick said. "He knows how to lead without being abrasive. He's excited about his senior season, and he wants to have success. The other kids see that and jump on the bandwagon."
Other players in the mix up front are Travis Lobato, Aaron Tagbuel, Alvey Stepp and Jesse Peters. Peters played at tight end last season but is moving to tackle this year.
Marcus McArdle returns at tight end and figures to be one of the team's top pass-catchers.
"Marcus really came on last year," Hedrick said. "He didn't play much as a freshman because of an injury. He had a breakout year last year. I thought he was one of the best sophomore tight ends in the state at our level."
Other players expected to fill prominent roles on offense include running back Aiden Braa-Stanley, who filled in last season when starter Casey Connor was injured.
"I'm pleased with his conditioning and development," Hedrick said. "We're excited to see what he can bring to the table. He's a different type runner than Casey. He's not the power runner Casey was, but he might be a little more elusive."
Other possible targets for Hedrick the quarterback are Erik Omlid, Ty Phillips, Jesse Pratt, Martin Robison, Michael Frerichs and Travis Tallan.
Omlid played some last season. Phillips is the younger brother of Michael and Eric Phillips and returns to the football team after playing soccer last season.
On defense, David Olson and Peters will open at the end spots with the undersized (5-foot-7, 155 pounds) but tenacious Seth Biester at noseguard.
McArdle and Casey Taylor are penciled in at inside linebacker. Omlid, Braa-Stanley and Sean Derry will divide time at the outside spots.
Tallan and Josh Aljbour look to start at cornerback with Grant Hedrick and Phillips at the safety spots.
Kicker Roman Daberkow is primed for a strong season, and Hedrick returns as the team's punter.