Peoria Centennial once viewed Peoria and Avondale Agua Fria as its biggest hurdles to overcome to become an elite football program.
Now, as it goes through drills, conditioning, doing work at their positions in spring camp, it is about beating national powerhouse Long Beach (Calif.) Poly.
That is the defending Division II champion’s incentive as it pushes through spring ball.
Centennial, which will be a newcomer to Division I next season, loaded up its football schedule, leading with a home date with Long Beach Poly on Aug. 21.
“To be honest, I can’t wait,” junior offensive lineman Jon Contreras said. “I saw the movie (portrayed as De La Salle’s biggest rival in “When The Game Stands Tall”) and I have so much respect for what they do and the work they go through. I can’t wait to see them come off the bus and we’re playing against them. It’s going to be an honor.”
Greater intensity for the 2015 season started before Centennial lined up the Long Beach Poly game.
BORDOW: Spring football story lines
Coach Richard Taylor saw a different mentality earlier in the year when the players were informed that they would be joining the Division I ranks.
“We had a meeting and we said, ‘If we don’t work hard, we’re going to get embarrassed,’ ” Taylor said. “These guys have never backed down to anything.”
Taylor figures to have one of the best offensive lines he ever has had, and he has had an assembly line of great offensive linemen come through his program in the past decade.
Offensive guards Marshal Nathe and Steve Bailey return after making first-team All-Division II last season.
They are flanked by tackles Contreras (6-5, 295) and Tanner Hawthorne (6-6, 280), who have both made commitment to the weight room this off-season, Taylor said.
ON THE BEAT: More prep sports coverage from Richard Obert
Recently, Boise State took notice of Contreras and Hawthorne.
“When Coach (Scott) Huff of Boise State (the offensive line coach) was here, he said, ‘Where were those guys last year?’ ” Taylor said. “I said, ‘Well, they didn’t look like that then.’ ”
Both tackles look much more powerful and better conditioned.
There is no shortage of athletes with quarterback/cornerback Isaac Steele leading the skill-position players.
Steele will join the football team after Centennial’s baseball season finishes.
“I’m ready to go,” Steel said about opening against Long Beach Poly.
Steele said the whole team “flipped a switch” when it heard that it was playing up in Division I next season.
“We’re ready to come out, lift, get ready,” Steele said. “The season really starts in the off-season.”
PHOTOS: HIGH SCHOOL SPRING FOOTBALL CAMPS
Coach Taylor’s outlook on camp
“We still have a lot of kids in track and baseball and volleyball. Some kids just can’t make spring. They have to work. It’s really important to be here. It’s tough to miss spring (football). We try to get them caught up in the summertime, sit them down and say, ‘This is the new stuff we’re doing.’ We want to get most of our offense and most of our defense in. Every year you add something. The core stuff is the same. But there are things at the end of season that has us saying, ‘Why did we run that?’ “
Top players to watch
Randy Rodriguez, DE, 6-3, 230, Sr.
Marshal Nathe, C/OG, 6-3, 290, Sr.
Steven Bailey, OG, 6-3, 285, Sr.
Bozton Sanders, LB, 6-0, 230, Sr.
Isaac Steele, QB/DB, 6-2, 180, Sr.
Andrew Nichols, TE, 6-4, 240, Jr.
Offensive lineman Marshal Nathe jumped on the Arizona State offer, accepting right away. He will make the move to center at ASU, but he is working on the position in spring ball and when he’s not with the team, snapping a football to any family member he can find, even his mom.
“I’m stoked,” he said. “it’s a big relief. I don’t have to worry about where I’m going anymore.
“My mom and dad probably catch 150 snaps a day.”
Coach Taylor said that he expects defensive end/outside linebacker Randy Rodriguez to pick up major offers soon. Rodriguez has built himself up, adding about 20 pounds since last season ,while running a consistent 4.5-second, 40-yard dash.
“I’m talking to Colorado here and there, and also Purdue is showing some interest in me,” Rodriguez said.
Aug. 21 vs. Long Beach Poly
Aug. 27 vs. Scottsdale Saguaro, at a neutral site to be determined
Sept. 4 at Chandler Basha
Sept. 11 vs. Gilbert Highland
Sept. 24 at Chandler Hamilton
Oct. 2 at Anthem Boulder Creek
Oct. 9 vs. Scottsdale Chaparral
Oct. 16 vs. Phoenix Pinnacle
Oct. 23 at Phoenix Horizon
Oct. 30 vs. Peoria Liberty