2011 Football Preview: Hazelwood Central Seeks Sixth Title
Despite having a very young team, the Hawks hope to be at the Edward Jones Dome in November again.
The first-year head coach simply points to the trophy case to get his players in gear.
The Hawks, the most successful team in Class 6 throughout the past three years, have made three successive trips to the state championship game at the Edward Jones Dome. They won the title in 2008 and 2009, and lost to Rockhurst (Kansas City), 10-7, in last year's first-place game.
"I just ask them if they want to be the ones that bring Hazelwood Central down, that end the string of success," Vanatta, the defensive coordinator the past three years, said. "That makes them work extra hard."
Central will have to do more than work hard to reach the championship game for a fourth consecutive season.
The Hawks return just five of 22 starters from last year's 13-1 squad. They have one of the youngest teams in the very competitive Suburban North Conference.
Gone are offensive standouts Tra Brown, A.J. Chappelle, Mike Jordan and Jamaal Flowers. Defensive wizards Cortland Dunlap and D.J. Cameron have graduated as well.
But shed no tears for Vanatta. The cupboard is far from bare.
"We have a tradition here and the kids want to keep that tradition going," Vanatta said.
A 16-year coaching veteran, Vanatta knows his squad inside and out. He believes the Hawks will improve as the season goes along, although reaching the title game again might be a difficult assignment.
"I can tell you for sure that this team will be a lot better at the end of the year than it is at the start of it," he said. "We're young. We've got some growing to do. The talent is there. We just have to see how it develops."
Central's strength may lie in its sheer size along the trenches. Senior center Marshall Dickson (six-foot, 305 pounds) and sophomore man-child tackle Roderick Johnson (6-3, 315 pounds) should be able to control the offensive line of scrimmage. Johnson is still growing and will likely become an NCAA Division I prospect.
"You can't teach a player to be 6-foot something and weigh 300 pounds," Vanatta said. "We're happy to have this kind of size."
Senior Sean Wills will take over at quarterback. A starting cornerback last season, he will likely play on both sides of the ball this time around. Wills ran for 290 yards on 26 carries last fall, an average of 11.2 yards per rush.
The 5-foot, 8-inch Wills is a track standout and that quickness, along with the hulking size up front, will allow the Hawks to attack on the ground.
Senior Carl Hendricks and junior Dorian Williams will handle most of the running chores along with Wills. Hendricks will also start at linebacker.
Veteran wide receiver Justin Riddle leads the receiving corps. Central attempted just 218 passes last season and that total will likely be even lower this time around.
Riddle, a senior, caught four passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns last fall.
Senior punter/placekicker Jonathan Harris is back to anchor the special teams. Harris, one of the state’s top pitchers in baseball, has already accepted a baseball scholarship to Missouri State University in Springfield. Harris made 35 of 40 extra points last season, and averaged 38 yards per punt.
The Hawks have been saddled with an extremely tough schedule. Six of their nine opponents reached the playoffs last season.
Still, don't be surprised if tradition kicks in and Vanatta's crew makes another deep postseason run.
The Hawks, who have won five state titles overall, always seem to peak at the right time.
"This could end up being a pretty good football team, Vanatta said. "We're young and we need to get some experience. But we could still end up being around at the end."
Central opens the season Aug. 26 at De Smet.
Hazelwood 2011 Football Schedule
8/26 at DeSmet 7 p.m.
9/3 vs. Pattonville 1 p.m.
9/9 at Rock Bridge 7 p.m.
9/17 vs. Kirkwood 1 p.m.
9/24 at Hazelwood East 1 p.m.
10/1 vs. Riverview Gardens 1 p.m.
10/8 at McCluer 1 p.m.
10/15 vs. McCluer North 1 p.m.
10/21 at Ritenour 7 p.m.
10/29 vs. Hazelwood West 1 p.m.