2017 growing pains may mean greatness in 2018 for Center football
The Center Roughriders not only had a lot of questions coming into the 2017, they had a lot more questions after an 0-4 start to the season.
Yet, competing in arguably the state’s toughest district and armed with just 11 seniors, the Roughriders managed to go 3-3 in 4A-Div. 1 District 9 and earn the final playoff berth.
While the season ended unceremoniously with a 37-17 loss to Silsbee, 2018 looks bright in Roughrider land.
“I’m just proud of kids – I think we improved,” said head coach Barry Bowman. “People will look at the record – 3-8 – and say the aren’t very good. And they are right – early, we weren’t very good. By the middle of the year, we just kept getting better and improving and that’s what you want as a coach – to see the team get better.”
With three new starters on the offensive line, a sophomore quarterback in Jayden Hicks and freshmen Marques Hall (running back/corner) and Jake Liker (linebacker/tight end), the Riders faced much uncertainty.
After opening the season with one-sided loses to Rusk (48-21), Gilmer (56-17) and Gladewater (17-3), Center nearly beat Diboll (45-42) before opening district by beating Bullard (39-35).
Wins over Chapel Hill (40-28) and an upset of Kilgore (49-35) – and a Henderson defeat of Palestine – put the Roughriders in the playoffs for the third straight year under third-year coach Bowman.
“We are very young,” Bowman said. “We have to have a great off season to get bigger and stronger – and maybe someone can shave and drive before we start next year.”
While Bowman can joke now about the team’s youth, the reality is that the hard knocks this season has meant a lot of playing time for a lot of young players who will be coming back next season.
“That’s exciting, Bowman said. “We have 11 seniors and the majority of team is coming back. We are excited about that. We just need to have a great off season, and we will. I am exciting about those kids coming back 10 sophomores, two freshmen and we’ve got some juniors. It will be interesting to see the kids from the junior varsity come out.”
Center will begin to reap the benefits of Bowman’s 3-year effort to improve the football program at the middle school. The varsity roster could push into the 40s or 50s after multiple seasons in the 30s.
Senior Jaterious Evans, who is verbally committed to Stephen F. Austin next season, said he was impressed with how the younger players improved over the season.
“We started out kind of slow with the young guys,” Evans said. “The more we got into the season the more the young guys starting playing better.”
It was just two years ago that Evans was the youngster on a senior-heavy team. This season, it was Evans who was helping provde senior leadership to the youngsters.
“It was very different because (two years ago) I didn’t have to lead that team,” Evans said. “This year, I had to lead a team in their first playoff game in high school.”
2017 Center Roughriders
Sept. 1 L @ Rusk 48-21
Sept. 8 L vs. Gilmer 56-17
Sept. 15 L Gladewater 17-3**
Sept. 22 L @ Diboll 45-42
Sept. 29 W @ Bullard* 39-35
Oct. 6 L vs. Palestine* 42-21
Oct. 13 W @ Chapel Hill* 40-28
Oct. 20 L vs. Carthage* 42-12
Oct. 27 L @ Henderson* 27-14
Nov. 3 W vs. Kilgore* 49-35
Nov. 10 BYE
Nov. 17 L vs. Silsbee*** 37-17
*** Playoff game
Last week’s playoff games
• Silsbee 37, Center 17
• Carthage 46, Huffman Hargrave 10
• Henderson 31, Navasota 24
• Kilgore 49, Little Cypress 0
This week’s playoff games
• Carthage vs. Brazosport
• Henderson vs. Sealy
• Kilgore vs. El Campo
• Silsbee vs. Bay City