After reaching the state title for the second time in school history in 2017, Centennial coach Evan Klanecky had a message for his team: last season is over, 2018 is a new season.
“As fun and as special as that season was, it’s in the past now and we have to clear the slate,” Klanecky said. “We’ve got to get rejuvenated. We know that there’s going to be a target on our backs and we just need to get back to the grindstone. I think that’s what’s got us so far the last couple of years is these guys have done a really good job of just taking one game at a time. So I think that’s going to be our message starting August 6, it’s a new season and just work as hard as we can each practice and don’t look too far ahead.”
The Broncos, who won their first 12 games before falling to Yutan 27-6 in the Class C-2 state championship, have plenty of returning experience to make another run at a state title as they bring back 15 starters, including all-state selections Wyatt Ehlers, Caleb Cast and Jackson Hirschfeld.
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Class C-2 No. 2 Centennial, 12-1
Coach: Evan Klanecky, 9th season (51-27)
Returning starters: QB/FS Wyatt Ehlers (Sr.); OL/DL Kalten Bauers (Sr.); OL/DL Quinn Butzke (Sr.); OL/DL Caleb Cast (Sr.); Garrett Fehlhafer (Sr.); WR/DB Reece Foreman (Sr.); WR/DB Jackson Hirschfeld (Sr.); WR/LB Max Tomes (Sr.); LB Haden Richters (Sr.)
Key departure: Tyler Perry was a starter for the Broncos at both center and middle linebacker. As the center, Perry was key in controlling the communication for the offensive line and the offense as a whole.
“(Perry) didn’t get the credit that a lot of those guys deserve, but he was so good for us at center,” Klanecky said. “He ran all of our communication and started all our calls. He was really smart, physical player.”
Key returning player: Centennial brings back three players from the Class C-2 all-state team, including Cast and Hirschfeld on defense, with Ehlers returning at quarterback to pace the Bronco offense. As a junior, Ehlers accounted for 2,568 yards (2,065 passing and 503 rushing) and 28 touchdowns.
“Ehlers is running the show again,” Klanecky said. “We’ve put a lot on him. We do a lot of pre-snap stuff. We do a lot of what we call “check-with-me’s and freezes” so he’s got a lot on his plate mentally. We’ve just tried to push him to his limits, and he can soak a lot in. He has a crazy-high football IQ. He’s going to a key just because he’s such a leader on the team.”
Breakout player: Sophomore Wyatt Collingham is the leading rusher among Centennial's returning running backs. He had 11 carries for 94 yards and a touchdown. Graduated senior Gavin Avery rushed for 1,141 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2017, so if Collingham can be as productive, the Bronco offense should not miss a beat.
Others to watch: TE/LB Joel Bargen (Jr.); WR/LB Cooper Gierhan (So.)
“We have a very successful group of seniors and have many starters with 2-3 years of varsity experience,” Klanecky said. “We have to develop depth and get younger players ready.”
On offense: Avery’s graduation leaves a void at running back, but much of the offense returns. Four offensive linemen, including Cast, return as do wide receivers Hirschfeld, Foreman and Tomes. Hirschfeld had 55 catches for a team-best 850 yards. Foreman pulled in 47 passes for 652 yards and nine touchdowns. The Broncos and their power-spread attack bring back 18 of the 22 receiving touchdowns from 2017, and Ehlers will be at the helm in his fourth year as the starting quarterback.
On defense: Cast and Hirschfeld were both all-state selections on defense in 2017. Cast notched 115 tackles, including 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. Hirschfeld made 50 tackles in the secondary and also had eight interceptions. As a whole, the Broncos have eight returning starters on a defense that forced 46 turnovers (27 interceptions and 19 fumble recoveries) last season.
Games to watch: The Broncos face a tough three-game stretch in the middle of season when they take on three playoff teams from 2017. Centennial starts the stretch with a visit to Battle Creek, which reached the state semifinals last year. Then they host Sutton and David City Aquinas in back-to-back weeks. Aquinas won a game in the Class C-1 playoffs, while Sutton lost in the first round of the C-2 playoffs.
“Weeks three, four and five are going to be barnburners,” Klanecky said. “We have Battle Creek, Sutton and Aquinas back-to-back. Those are three top-notch programs. That’ll be three really tough weeks back-to-back.”
Final word: “I think that’s going to be our goal, to win a state title,” Klanecky said. “I think that should be every team’s ultimate goal. I think it will be one of our goals, it’s not going to be our first goal that we want to obtain or reach, but I think this group of seniors, most of which have started now for three, if not four years. They’re such a good group. They know not to look too far ahead. I think they’re hungry for the first game all the way through the ninth game, and if we’re fortunate enough to make the playoffs, then anything can happen.”
2018 schedule (with 2017 record)
Aug. 24, at Syracuse (2-7)
x-Sept. 7, at Battle Creek (8-4)
x-Sept. 21, David City Aquinas (8-2)
Sept. 28, at North Bend Central (2-6)
Oct. 5, Shelby-Rising City (4-5)
Oct. 12, at David City (2-7)
Oct. 19, at Twin River (1-8)
X-denotes playoff teams; district opponents in bold type
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Front row, from left: Sam Sims, Grand Island; Dietrick Stolz, Grand Island Central Catholic; James Burks, Omaha Burke; Dylan Sales, Omaha Burke; Shane Dailey, Bellevue West; Jarod Epperson, Omaha Skutt. Second row, from left: D.J. Gross, McCook; Garrett Snodgrass, York; Xavier Watts, Omaha Burke; Jevyon Ducker, Bellevue West; Kohl Herbolsheimer, Millard South; Alex Rodgers, Omaha Roncalli. Third row, from left: Joseph Krause, Seward; Ethan Piper, Norfolk Catholic; Nick Henrich, Omaha Burke; Garrett Nelson, Scottsbluff; Chris Hickman, Omaha Burke. Back row, from left: Zavier Betts, Bellevue West; Mehki Butler, Omaha North; Caden Johnson, Wahoo Neumann; Tyson Gordon, Omaha Skutt; Baylor Scheierman, Aurora; Noah Stafursky, York. Not pictured: Isaiah Alford, Lincoln High
Like the burr oaks at Mahoney State Park that were the backdrop for this photo, the 2017 All-Nebraska football team branched out with players from the Wyoming state line to the Missouri River.
The 2016 All-Nebraska football team "earned their wings" at the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum.
Back row from left: York's Masry Mapieu, Bellevue West's Sylvo Johnson, Lincoln East's Chris Walker, Gretna's Patrick Arnold, Bellevue West's Tyler Ciurej, Omaha Burke's Cole Frahm, Wilber-Clatonia's Riley Homolka, Norfolk's Lane McCallum, Ashland-GW's Brett Kitrell, and Beatrice's Cam Jurgens.
Middle row from left: Kearney's Noah Urbanek, Bellevue West's Jaylin Bradley, Omaha North's Kendrick Parker, Omaha North's Milton Sargbah, Elkhorn South's Moses Bryant, Omaha Skutt's Christian Banker, and Creighton Prep's AJ Hubner.
Front row from left: Wahoo Neumann's Noah Vedral, Omaha North's Zion Williams, Bellevue West's Diego Galvan, McCook's Zach Schlager, Bellevue West's Kevin Ponec, Norris' Austin Schultz, and Millard North's Jack Begley.
The 2015 All-Nebraska football team gathered at Papillion-La Vista High School for the photo shoot.
The 2014 All-Nebraska football team posted on the steps of the Joslyn Art Museum. The cover read: "A Step Ahead: The 24 members of the All-Nebraska football team towered over foes."
Back rows, starting from left: Papillion-La Vista South’s Jeremy Kowalski, No. 75; Seward’s Adam Holtorf, No. 79; Papillion-La Vista South’s Ryan Earith; Kearney’s Brian Arp, No. 55; Elkhorn South’s Brett Stinson; Grand Island’s Kevin Cahoy, No. 12; Omaha Central’s Tre Sanders, No. 6; Omaha Central’s DaiShon Neal, No. 9; Grand Island’s Pierce Almond, No. 2; Blair’s Vance Janssen; Bellevue West’s CJ Johnson; Boone Central/Newman Grove’s Wyatt Mazour; Omaha Central’s Xavier Graham, No. 64; Creighton Prep’s Jeremiah Stovall; and Creighton Prep’s Jack McLeay, No. 54. Front rows, starting from left: Omaha North’s Cole Bixler, No. 34; Omaha North’s Michael Decker, No. 78; Omaha North’s Calvin Strong, No. 5; Omaha North’s Jason Martin; Grand Island Central Catholic’s Youhanna Ghaifan; Millard North’s Adrrell Taylor, No. 27; Omaha North’s Marquise Lewis, No. 1; McCook’s Bryce Lyons, No. 21; and Omaha North’s Markell Vaughn, No. 22.
In 2013, the All-Nebraska football and volleyball teams came together for a photo shoot, and the cover was designed to look like a Facebook page with the teams taking one big selfie.
The 2012 All-Nebraska football team made a splash in the shark tunnel of the Scott Aquarium at the Henry Doorly Zoo.
Standing, from left: Luke McNitt, Kearney; DJ Foster, Lincoln Southeast; Josh Banderas, Lincoln Southwest; Nick DeLuca, Millard North; Harrison Phillips, Millard West; Mike Milenkovich, Millard North; Bryce Sosnowski, Millard South; Nathan Bazata, Howells-Dodge; Casey Sayles, Omaha North.
Middle row: Christian LaCouture, Lincoln Southwest; Jordan Bellar, Norfolk Catholic; Clay Fisher Millard North; Isaac Aakre, Millard North; Matt Kraft, Millard South; Alec Ditoro, Papillion-La Vista; Jake Schlager, McCook; Lee Carhart, Creighton Prep; Freeman Coleman, Millard South.
Front row: Andy Bayne, Millard North; Trey Carr, Omaha Burke; Calvin Strong, Omaha North; Skyler Monaghan, Millard West; Devin Washington, Lincoln Southeast; RJ Urzendowski, Creighton Prep.
With the Omaha skyline in the background, the 2011 All-Nebraska football team was "Standing Tall" at Pioneer Courage Park not far from the Omaha World-Herald building.
Bottom Row (from left): Tay Bender, RB, Lincoln Southwest; Isaac Aakre, RB, Millard North; Landon Arnold, OL, Millard North; Andrew Coppa, DL, Omaha Burke; Trey Foster, DL, Lincoln Southeast; Bo Liekhus, DB, Bellevue West.
Middle Row (from left): Darian Barrientos-Jackson, DB, Omaha Central; James Anderson, OL, Omaha Burke; Andy Janovich, LB, Gretna; Drew Farlee, K, Norfolk Catholic; Mike Minter Jr., DB, Lincoln North Star; Sam Cotton, DL, Lincoln Southeast; Devin Washington, RB, Lincoln Southeast; Sam Foltz, DB, Grand Island; Jeremy Callahan, P, Lexington; Robbie Lafour, OL, Lincoln Southeast; Jake Schany, LB, Blair; Jordan Nelson, RB, Omaha Burke; Ryker Fyfe, QB, Grand Island.
Top Row (from left): Jordan Brichacek, OL, Howells; Zach Oliver, WR, Omaha Burke; Terry Grigsby, DB, Omaha North; Drew Ott, LB, Giltner; Mike Shoff, OL, Cambridge.
All-Nebraska football captains Jimmie Forsythe of Omaha Burke and Tyson Broekemeier of Aurora were the focus in 2010 during this shoot at Turner Park at Midtown Crossing.
The 2009 All-Nebraska football hopped aboard this old streetcar at the Durham Museum.
There was "nothing pedestrian" about the 2008 All-Nebraska football team, which posed in front of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.
Back row, from left, Tyrone Sellers of McCook, Corey Serrano of North Platte, Nathan Zook of Grand Island, Eric Koehlmoos of Pierce, Tyler Daake of Norfolk Catholic, Tyler Niederklein of Millard West, Charles Viers of Millard West, Josh Kage of Papillion-LaóVista, Jake Herweyer of Millard West, Cole Pensick of Lincoln Northeast, Jordan Hale of Millard South, Andrew Rodriguez of Aurora, James Davis of Omaha North, Jon Lechner of Prep, Scott Criss of Omaha Creighton Prep and C.J. Zimmerer of Omaha Gross. Front row, Matt Berry of McCook, Braden Taylor of Grand Island, Vinny Molina of Kearney, Kohlman Adema-Schulte of Millard West, Bryant Giles of Omaha North, Michael Burrus of Papillion-LaóVista South, Ronald Coleman of North, Tyler Seals of Bellevue West and Greg Hardin of Bellevue West.
For the 2007 All-Nebraska football team, The World-Herald chose individual shots for the cover instead of the group photo, and the result was "Picture Perfect."
No challenge was too steep for the "Rock Solid" 2006 All-Nebraska football team, who posed in front of a climbing wall at Dick's Sporting Goods.
The 2005 All-Nebraska football team wore letterman jackets for the photo shoot instead of their jerseys.
Top, from left, Millard North's Corey Young, Lincoln Southwest's Ian Dike, Millard North's Adam Nelson, Bellevue West's Silas Fluellen, Omaha Central's D.J. Jones (back row), Millard North's Jeff Tarpinian, Kearney's Tony Green, Lincoln Southwest's Ben Martin, Bellevue West's Jeff Martin, Lincoln Southwest's Ollie Sloup, Papillion-LaVista's Kyle Dooley and McCook's Josh Cherry.
Bottom, from left, Omaha Benson's Anthony Williams, Kearney's Joey Rousseau, Lincoln Southwest's Andy Cotton, Omaha Burke's Ricky Henry, Omaha South's Philip Barrientos, Creighton Prep's Mark Waring, Omaha Burke's Alex Henery, Millard West's Brandon Pete, Omaha Burke's Travis Liechti, Millard North's Paul Homer, Omaha North's Aaron Terry and Millard West's Matt Leaders.
Nothing says football like rows of poinsettias. Those were the accents that went with this photo shoot for the 2004 All-Nebraska football team.