By Maurice Patton
Most coaches are hesitant to identify a single player as a team focal point.
But with Columbia Central’s Christian Biggers coming off an 1,120-yard, 10-touchdown rushing performance as a sophomore last fall, the facts speak for themselves.
“Christian’s obviously a key part of the offense, a key part of the team,” Lions coach Jason Hoath said. “He’s had two good years coming into this year and the plan is for him to have another good year
“We only have one returning offensive line starter; we’ll have some new faces on the field. There’s going to be some times he’ll have to get some yards himself. That’s just the way it is. He can make a line look better, but there will be times when the line is going to be great and make it easy for him.”
While Biggers may be the linchpin among Central’s ‘skill position’ players, the Lions will rely on senior Carter Szydlowski to hold things together up front. The 6-2, 290-pound multi-sport athlete is a legitimate college prospect.
“He’s going to be our anchor up front,” Hoath said. “He’s a coach’s dream as a lineman, as far as size, athleticism, strength and work ethic. He’s the total package. He’s got some college (scholarship) offers; he doesn’t have any FBS or FCS yet, but hopefully those’ll come.
“I’ve seen a lot of good players come through this school and I’d put him up there as one.”
With Szydlowski at center, the guards and tackles will emerge from a group that includes sophomores Luke James, DeAndre Mathers and Tylan Orr and juniors Jordan Brooks, Eli Hight and Louis Maddox.
Taking the snaps will be senior Brady McCanless, who assumed the starting quarterback role down the stretch last season and was under center as Central nearly upset previously unbeaten Beech in the opening round of the Class 5A state playoffs. Sophomore Parker Bush and freshman Luke Uselton are battling for the backup spot.
Senior Blane Davis, a two-year starter at tight end, is set to move to fullback with sophomore Jase Hoath – a familiar name – moving into his former role.
“I’m excited about that, from the parent side,” the coach admitted. “But he’s got pretty good size (6-2, 204), he’s got a good football IQ, he’s a smart kid and a hard worker. It’s also best for us because by moving Blane to slotback, fullback, he can do those things and it gets (junior Watson) Harvey off the field on both sides of the ball, especially in these early games.”
Senior Steven Kinnard leads a group of largely unproven receivers that will include sophomore Adrian Hidalgo, junior Ryan Patterson and senior Evan Sandman. Kaelan Hill and Nick Butler will figure into the ground game behind Biggers, who racked up 200 carries in 10 games a year ago.
Harvey, senior mainstay Shane Cobb and classmate Demetrius “Meach” McCoy will be the nucleus of the defensive unit from their linebacker spots. Szydlowski will play a vital role on the defensive line, though the coaching staff will try to keep him fresh for offense during the season’s early stages. He and end Antwan Moore will be the most tested of the Lions up front.
All-Region 5-5A selection Roman Woodson returns at one cornerback spot and fellow senior Laith Naddy at the other, with juniors Isaiah Cordle and Lincoln English under consideration for the safeties along with Butler, a sophomore.
Kinnard and Max Patton return to handle the punting and kicking duties.
After taking host Beech to the wire before falling 6-3 to wrap up a 6-5 campaign, the focus for Hoath and the Lions heading into their Aug. 21 season opener at Spring Hill in the fourth annual Backyard Bowl will be generating more offensive production. Central scored 14 points or less in six of its 11 games a year ago.
“We’ve just got to be consistent, more consistent than last year,” Hoath said.