GRESHAM, Ore. — When it comes to the top of Mt. Hood Conference, most of the talk is about Central Catholic, Clackamas and Oregon City.
Don’t tell that to Centennial.
“We think by the end of the year we can be a pretty good ball club, barring some major injuries at the wrong place,” head coach Chris Knudsen said.
Last year, the Eagles had a 3-6 overall record and tied for fourth place in the conference with every other team not named Central Catholic, Clackamas and Oregon City.
If Centennial is going to breakthrough the crop of 2-5 teams from last season, it will start up front.
“Our biggest strength is our (offensive) line,” quarterback Trevor Thornton said. “They’re crazy good. They’re huge and we got a lot of experience there too.”
The Eagles return four starters on the offensive line, including 6-foot-3, 270-pound Anouson Keobounnam, who will be a third-year starter.
“We try to do a lot of things with our blocking schemes up front,” Knudsen said. “So, those guys have to have a lot of knowledge and wisdom in the run game. And they have that.”
The Eagles run a veer, run-dominated offense. Last year, they averaged more than 200 rushing yards a game, but the team’s top running backs graduated. Knudsen said junior tailback Jesse Porter will get a lot of carries this year to fill the void.
While the Eagles had success on the ground, moving the chains through the air was a different story.
Photos: Centennial HS training camp
Thornton, the team’s starting quarterback at the beginning of last season, suffered a season-ending knee injury during the second game of the season. With Thornton healthy, Centennial is focused on bringing more balance to the offense.
“We’re working hard on a passing game,” Knudsen said. “If we can bring that along, we’re pretty good offensively.”
Defensively, Centennial loses eight starters from last year’s team. A ground game that controls the clock should relieve pressure from an inexperienced defense. But, Knudsen has seen his defense progress faster than expected during fall camp.
“Our defense coming into the season was a major concern for us because of lack of experience and I think they have jelled really well so far,” he said.
If the Eagles are to contend at the top of the Mt. Hood Conference, they’ll need the added dynamics of an improved passing game and defense.
One thing Centennial is not short on is confidence.
“Better than I’ve seen an Eagle team in a while,” Thornton said of the squad. “We got talent and experience everywhere. I’m just excited for the year.”
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