Senior-laden Burlington Central is built to win now.
A roster of 45 is stocked with 28 seniors so experienced players litter the lineup. Four of five offensive linemen return and the entire starting defense consists of members of the Class of 2015.
"I think we're going to be pretty darned good," said fourth-year coach Rich Crabel, whose teams have gone 10-10 since the Rockets made the playoffs in his first season in 2011. "I do have a couple of concerns, but we're getting better. We'll see."
There are myriad reasons Central fans should be optimistic about a return to postseason football, starting with the maturing defense helmed by three-year starting linebackers Cole Roach (5-foot-11, 225 pounds) and Craig Keim (6-1, 205). Roach was an all-Big Northern selection last season at middle linebacker for a defense that held opponents to 21.4 points and 286 total yards per game. Anton Christensen also returns at outside linebacker after rotating in at the position last year.
Cornerback Johnny Frederickson (5-8) grabbed 2 interceptions last season and should have been an all-BNC East pick, his coach said. Also in the cornerback mix are Mohammed Aburmishan (6-0) and David Streder (5-6). The job of replacing all conference safety Casey Matthews falls to Adam Skirmont (5-9) and Kyle Trumbower (6-0), though tailback Trevor Davison will see significant playing time on defense as well.
The defensive line returns multiple battle-tested seniors, highlighted by Charlie Sanders (6-1, 215), a player his coach calls "a hard-nosed, ornery, get-after-you kid." Sanders is technically an end but will line up in multiple techniques. The opposite end will be manned by Kyle Schejbal (6-1, 195) or Branden Sorensen (6-3, 220)
Offensively, Davison, a varsity performer since his sophomore year, "is a key for us in the backfield," Crabel said. Last season he carried 25 times for 119 yards in a backup role. Brad Sorensen (6-1, 180) will rotate in at tailback, particularly when Davison lines up elsewhere.
Junior Robert Doubek (5-11, 180) emerged from a position battle to win the quarterback job. He sat out his sophomore season due to a shoulder injury.
Doubek gains a potent weapon in senior Brenden Bushy, a 6-foot-4, 180-pound multisport athlete who chose to play high school football for the first time as a senior. Crabel said the staff is keeping it simple for Bushy because he's behind the learning curve, but when he executes properly in practice the Central defense hasn't been able to stop him.
"He runs really fast, jumps really high and catches the ball really well,"Crabel said. "If there are better receivers we play, I'll be very surprised. He's pretty dang tough."
Junior Tim Goehrke (5-10, 155) is a speedy receiver who can stretch the field, though he is nursing a broken finger in preseason. Ryan Anderson (6-2, 190) returns at tight end and Andrew Lippert (6-0, 190) joins him when offensive coordinator Brett Porto's prostyle offense lines up in double-tight formation.
The offensive line is a team strength. Returning starters include seniors Joe Vitraelli (5-8, 250), Zach Garbacz (6-2, 210), Matt Overstreet (5-11, 235) and junior Esteban Escobar (5-10, 240). Joining that veteran line is junior James Ankrom (6-2, 220).
The combination of senior leadership, talent and depth should help the Rockets compete for the top spot in the Big Northern East, which becomes an eight-team division this season with the addition of Johnsburg. Central seeks its first BNC East crown since 2006.
"Overall, it might be the most weapons we've had in four years," Crabel said. "I believe we're going to be pretty dang productive offensively. If we can keep some of those great skill kids on the field, it'll give our defense a little more time to figure things out."