Centennial and coach Evan Klanecky were the gold standard in Class C-2 last season. A perfect 13-0 season and a state championship was another testament to the program’s recent success, which included 9-1 and 12-1 records during the 2016 and 2017 seasons, respectively.
However, the Broncos head into this new year with only three returning starters, thanks to a large, impactful senior class that is now gone. These departures included four members of the C-2 all-state team and three honorable mentions.
While the team is going into this season with nearly 50 percent of the roster being freshmen and a need to fill positions all over the team, Klanecky is confident in his relatively small number of upperclassmen and newer players to still figure things out and win games.
“I think our senior class is very small, but with the seniors we got, we’re in really good hands,” Klanecky said. “Things are going to be different, but welcome to Class C-2 football. I think we’ll be scrappy, and I think we’re going to learn a lot.”
Class C-2 No. 1 Centennial (13-0)
Coach: Evan Klanecky, 10th season (63-26)
Returning starters: TE/LB Joel Bargen (Sr.), RB/LB Caleb Horne (Sr.), DB Will Saunders (Jr.)
Key departure: Class C-2 all-state QB Wyatt Ehlers threw 33 touchdowns, ran for eight more while throwing for more than 2,400 yards last season. Ehlers, a Concordia University commit, leaves behind a hole the Broncos will try to fill by changing up the offense some as they try to replace the lost production from the dual-threat quarterback.
“I think when you have somebody like him, you just can’t replace it. You just have to do different things because he’s just pretty unique with everything that he brings,” Klanecky said.
Key returning players: Caleb Horne had the most rushing touchdowns for the Broncos last season with 11, running for 443 yards along the way. Joel Bargen was the only non-senior with double-digit catches, pulling down 25 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns. Both players are coming back for their senior year as the only two returning offensive starters. Klanecky expects not only a lot from them on the field, where they’ll be asked to do more such as play wide receiver, but also as leaders off it.
“We’ll expect a lot of them physically and mentally,” Klanecky said. “They were leaders even last year as juniors, but neither one of them are really very vocal … So we’ll need more out of them just in the leadership role of being verbal and helping out that way a little bit more.”
Breakout player: Outside of Horne and Bargen, junior Will Saunders is the other returning Centennial starter. He made 42 tackles and recovered two fumbles as a sophomore.
On offense: Klanecky will be looking at Horne and Bargen to lead the way on offense for the Broncos but knows adjustments will have to be made to account for a missing Class C-2 all-state QB, depth to fill at the skill positions and a completely new-look offensive line that includes four starting sophomores.
“We’re only bringing back two out of eleven, and we got to count on these seniors, that the guys before them have done the right thing, and they’ll just keep things going,” Klanecky said.
On defense: Defense is no exception to the gaps Centennial now must fill with new players this season, as the program lost its eight leading tacklers from 2018. Klanecky will be watching to see what younger players will be up for the challenge while also identifying his seniors as players that need to help keep things moving.
“Caleb and Joel and even Davon Brees that played at Seward before this, those guys that are seniors that have had roles or are going to step up into bigger roles,” Klanecky said.
Game to watch: Centennial handed Sutton its only regular-season loss last year, a 41-22 victory. This season, the teams match up again Sept. 20 on Sutton’s home turf.
Final word: “I think we’re still going to compete. I told those guys, and I really believe this, we really got a shot to win the district and go to state,” Klanecky said. “We need to try to win the district; we need to try to make it to the state playoffs. After that, we’ve figured out that anything can happen.”