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Jeff Centoni is the new football coach at Central High School.

INDEPENDENCE — Things have come full circle for Jeff Centoni.

Twenty years ago, Centoni was an assistant football coach under Shane Hedrick at Central High School. On May 17, it was announced that he was hired as the school’s new head football coach, following Hedrick’s resignation.

“I started coaching at Central in 1998, underneath Jason Clark and Brett Baldwin for basketball, and then Shane had gotten hired that next fall, and he hired me onto his staff,” Centoni said. “So it was interesting that that was back in 1999 and here we are, in 2019, 20 years later, and I’m taking it on. It’s kind of funny how life works that way.”

Becoming a head football coach wasn’t something Centoni had been actively seeking out, but doors continued to open for him, he said.

A Southeast Portland native, Centoni moved to Monmouth with his wife and two children in 2015, where he continued to teach in Portland at David Douglas High School as a health education and health sciences teacher.

“My wife is from Myrtle Point, and we loved this area in college,” Centoni said. “We just wanted to be somewhere smaller.”

Since their move to town, Centoni has gotten involved with Central Youth Sports, where he sits on the football youth advisory board for Monmouth.

It was in one of the first board meetings of the year that seeds were planted for Centoni’s eventual shift in careers.

“So we’re talking about what we want the board to be about,” Centoni said, “and I said, ‘I want our youth program to be an extension of the high school, to prepare these kids to eventually walk in the doors of CHS and when they get to Shane … they’ll know the fundamentals.’ And then we went around the room and it got to Shane and he was like, ‘Well I just told my family tonight that I’m stepping down.’ So it was a shock. And after the meeting a couple people asked me, ‘Would you be interested in that position?’

“A few days later, I got a text from Ryan (O’Malley, CHS athletic director) saying, ‘Hey just wanted you to know the job position opened up.’ At the time there wasn’t a teaching position open, so it was kind of a moot point. But I talked to a couple of my friends, I talked to my wife, and they were all like you should do it. So I sat down with Ryan, asking about how things looked. I said, well, there’s no teaching job but I’m just going to apply and we’ll see what happens. And doors kept opening, and hurdles kept getting out of the way, and then I got the phone call.”

Along with coaching, Centoni will also be Central’s career and technical education coordinator, allowing him to resign at David Douglas, where he had been for 17 years, and be full-time in Monmouth.

Since that phone call, it’s been a whirlwind, and Centoni has had hardly any time to sit down and digest all that has happened.

“I feel like there hasn’t been the space to be excited yet,” he said. “There’s times when I’m driving home from the school and I have these moments of joy, like, this is a pretty cool thing that’s happening.”

Another word he used to describe his situation was incredulous, because, while he’s helped coach football and basketball before, Centoni has never carried the title of head coach.

“Being the head football coach, you’re the entire program,” he said. “It’s a big job. But I’m just taking a growth mindset with it. I’m humbled by the position. I’m honored to be in this position, because it doesn’t feel like something I was fighting for. It feels like something I was kind of asked to step into.”

The next couple months will be a lot of work.

His philosophy is taking it one game at a time.

“You can never get too far ahead of yourself,” Centoni said.

He’s approaching the start of his new career with that same mindset.

“Right now, my goal for myself is to earn the trust of these kids, and to build a staff that does what’s best for kids,” he said. “At the end of the day, I think that’s how we’re going to be judged, by the type of people who come out of our program and what they do in our community.

“And, you want to do right by this community; you want to do right by these kids. And, you know, you’re kind of judged by what that Friday night score looks like, and I told them (the team) you’re worth far more to me than a football player. Your football career is going to be relatively short, but you’re going to be spending the rest of your life as a human being, and that’s what you matter most to me as. It’s about honoring the past that’s been done here by Shane and those who came before him, but also to build our future going forward.”

Centoni got a true taste for what the sports culture in Monmouth is like when the Panthers baseball team clinched the state championship in June for the first time since 1958.

“It reminded me of ‘Hoosiers,’” he said, laughing. “In the movie, you see this little town that’s making it into playoffs, and the town is just following them, and when we came back from the state baseball championship game it was like the whole town of Monmouth was driving back after the game, and I was like, ‘oh this is like ‘Hoosiers.’”

The Panther football season kicks off Sept. 6 at 7 p.m., hosting Silverton.

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