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Central quarterback Chase Nelson looks to pass to receiver Myles Crandall during the Panthers game against South Albany on Oct. 23.

INDEPENDENCE — The cupboard will be anything but bare as Central’s football coaches try to cook up something good for 2022.

The Panthers potentially will be loaded with players returning for their senior year.

“Next year’s senior class is one we’ve been excited about since they came in as freshmen,” Central coach Joel Everett said. “We’ll see if they can flip the switch and stay healthy.”

The work begins in the off-season, which has the potential to resemble business as usual — or at least more how it used to be — after a couple of unusual seasons adapting to issues relating to the pandemic.

“We haven’t had a normal off-season for two years, and I haven’t had one year as coach,” said Everett, who came aboard after 2019.

High school teams played an abbreviated 2020 season this spring, then returned for a full slate in the fall.

“The coaches were just talking about how it feels like we’ve been doing a year straight of football. It’s been a crazy ride,” Everett said. “We’re all excited to take a breath and regroup.”

When the Panthers do get back together, for off-season weight lifting and 7-on-7 action in the spring, they can look forward to having a good amount of experience on both sides of the ball.

Only two seniors were mainstay starters on offense and will have to be replaced: linemen Brayden Foreman and Chase Brinton.

Five seniors started on defense: Josh Shinkle and Manuel Vela up front, Foreman at linebacker, Andre Estrada at cornerback and Adam Abrahamson at safety.

Among those slated to return as starters on offense are quarterback Chase Nelson; running back Kohler Hernandez; wide receivers Myles Crandall, Aaron Cooper, Javier Landeros, Andrew Eames and Dominic Castanon; and Jose Lugo, Ishmael Cervantes and Taku Talmadge on the line.

Players coming back for their final year as starters defensively include lineman Duke Akina; linebackers Ethan Dunigan, Benson Craig and Joey Cole; cornerback Taryn Thomas; and safety Kirik Kantola.

Kicker Maximo Villanueva was a junior this year, and Crandall handled the punting chores.

It’s a good-sized group that has experienced adversity along with some success. The Panthers finished this season 2-7 overall and 1-6 in Class 5A Special District 3.

The wins were 40-24 over Redmond and 54-14 at Crescent Valley.

Only one of the losses was a blowout; No. 2-ranked Silverton defeated the Panthers 47-7. but the Foxes beat almost everyone soundly, with an average margin of victory of 29 points.

This season, Nelson completed 55.4 percent of his passes for 182.6 yards per game, with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed 31 times for 79 yards and a touchdown.

“I’m excited about the development he had over this year,” Everett said.

Nelson’s top targets all return next season. Crandall caught 35 passes for 651 yards and six touchdowns, running back Hernandez had 31 receptions for 268 yards and three touchdowns, Cooper caught 29 balls for 293 yards and a TD, and Castanon made 21 grabs for 264 yards and three touchdowns.

Hernandez was by far the main man in the run game, totaling 766 yards in eight games, 6.5 per carry, and scoring seven touchdowns.

He was the only back with a run of more than 12 yards (his longest was 57 yards), and Nelson’s longest pass play went for 43 yards.

The season finale, a 29-13 loss at Dallas, was similar to several of Central’s so-near-and-yet-so-far outcomes in 2021. The Panthers scored first on a 27-yard field goal by Villanueva, but a combination of third- and fourth-down failures, turnovers and penalties stopped them in their tracks too often.

Dallas had the more explosive plays, mostly on the ground and with senior Logan Person rushing for a 44-yard touchdown and Owen Hess scoring from 30 yards.

Central didn’t have a play gain more than 19 yards in that game.

With Central’s top running backs sidelined, the Panthers had to go to the air a lot. Central QB Nelson threw the ball 44 times, completing 19 for 171 yards. Nelson had to scramble almost every play and take on multiple Dallas defenders as he scrapped for yards.

“He’s a warrior out there, trying to keep plays alive,” Everett said.

The Panthers had to play without their top rushing threat, Hernandez, and during the Dallas game they had to deal with injuries to sophomore slot receiver Eames, junior fullback Dunigan and two-way back Kantola.

“It was kind of a MASH unit on offense,” Everett said.

The Panthers scored the final touchdown of the Dallas game, as Nelson capped a 77-yard drive with a 7-yard pass to Castanon, then hit Estrada for a two-point conversion.

“It was good to get that and for our team to know that even when the odds are stacked against us we can muster something,” Everett said. “It gives our group confidence that we can find ways to get things done.”

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