ROSWELL, Ga. — Centennial is under the direction of a new head coach for the third time in five seasons with Shane Sams tapped to lead the Knights. While Sams has an extensive offensive background, including as offensive coordinator at several schools, the Knights’ new leader said the offseason focus has been on Centennial’s defense.
“I do come from an offensive background, but I still understand that defense wins championships,” Sams said. “A definite priority for us has been teaching the defense in the offseason, especially the fundamentals, and there has been a lot of teaching and growing.”
That instruction is due in part to the Knights losing several key defensive players from its 2018 squad, including the team’s top nine tacklers. Centennial’s linebacker core and secondary will be awash with new talent, and Sams is counting on his defensive line to be the difference.
Senior Tino Bradley returns to the defensive front after compiling 27 tackles and four tackles-for-loss in 2018. He will be joined by sophomore Joshua Wolfook and juniors Jordan Marks and Evan Walker.
Sams’ background as an offensive leader could benefit the Knights in continuing their offensive success. Centennial has scored an average of 35 points per game or more the last three seasons.
Leading the charge will be a new man behind center in senior quarterback Parker Sperier, who replaces 2018 standout graduate Max Brosmer.
“He can throw the ball around well, and he is a smart kid who has molded to the offensive really well,” Sams said. “And there are not many people that can outwork him.”
Sperier will have a go-to receiver in standout junior Julian Nixon, who was primed for a breakout season before an injury early last year sidelined him for the year.
“He definitely stands out,” Sams said. “There is no doubt given his caliber and what he does, he will be the top receiver for us. The good thing is there is about another four to five other receivers who can be very effective. Everyone will game plan for [Nixon], but he has a good supporting cast around him.”
Several running backs will mount rushing yards for the Knights this season. Sams, who most recently led Warner Robins to two state finals as offensive coordinator, said he has implemented a rotation of rushers in the backfield.
The offensive line is still a question mark, Sams said.
“They are shaping up really well, but it is one position that takes a long time to develop,” he said. “So, we have to continue to prepare and see where we are at.”
In addition to implementing a few new schemes, Sams has strived to change the culture at Centennial, emphasizing a family atmosphere to the program.
“We stress that we are always there for the kids, in football and outside of it,” Sams said. “We are in it together, and that can benefit the team because they know we are all here for each other.”
No matter new talent or a new head coach, the expectations are certainly high for Centennial this season given their recent success and a 23-11 record the past three seasons.
“The last two coaches, Lenny Gregory and Michael Perry, have done a great job of winning games, and our plan it to continue to feed off that,” Sams said.
Despite their winning ways in recent years, the Knights have fallen short of one goal the past three seasons — a region title. Centennial has finished second in the Region 7-AAAAAA standings the past three seasons with a single loss to the eventual region champs.
“There are lots of good teams and head coaches in this region, and I know all those teams will be ready to play,” Sams said. “I would say our goal is to be competing and winning region titles year in and year out.”
And Sams believes his squad is ready to rise to the occasion.
“We have a team that is hungry,” he said. “They are ready to go, show what they have and prove what they can do.”