Each year, Centennial High football head coach Richard Taylor gives his players homework before the start of the season
The assignment: Make goals for the year.
“Goals aren’t up to me,” Taylor said. “I always ask the kids what the goal is.”
Coming off a 9-2 season, the Coyotes have set some lofty expectations for themselves.
“Our goal is to go undefeated, win the state championship and have a great year,” said senior DJ Gleash.
One of his goals will not be attained, after a crushing 42-0 loss to Hamilton High Oct. 2. Centennial looks to rebound Friday, Oct. 9, when it takes on Mountain Pointe.
If Centennial bounces back for a playoff run, Gleash will have likely played a key part. As a junior, the defensive end racked up 14.5 sacks and earned postseason awards at the 5A level from local media outlets. Centennial has since moved to the 6A Conference and will play one of Arizona’s toughest schedules.
Gleash, listed at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, will see an expanded role and take the majority of the snaps this season at tight end on offense. To say he’s excited for the challenge would be an understatement.
“I want to be in every snap,” Gleash said. “I can take a break whenever I need it, but I don’t think I’ll be needing many breaks.”
Gleash has been playing on both sides of the ball as long as he’s been playing football. He recognizes how it makes him smarter and an all-around better player.
“Playing both ways helps my mental game tremendously,” he said. “On defense I can read the offense well, and on offense I can see where the other team is going and make my play.”
Gleash and the Coyotes’ expectations for themselves this season may not be so farfetched, especially when reflecting back on the 2019 season.
Centennial’s only regular-season loss came against Southern California powerhouse Mater Dei, led by quarterback Bryce Young, who has already seen game action as a true freshman for the Alabama Crimson Tide after winning every award imaginable in his final high school season.
Centennial then steamrolled its way through its section games, setting up an Open Division matchup against Hamilton. The Coyotes were defeated 28-19, a painful way to end a stellar season.
Daxon Lindholm, a senior, still has a sour taste in his mouth from the Open Division loss to Hamilton. But in true storybook fashion, the Coyotes had a shot at revenge in the season opener, as they traveled to face the Huskies.
“I love it,” Lindholm said before the game. “I know a lot of kids that play at Hamilton. It’ll be a real showdown because we can prove everyone wrong after last year.”
As a junior, Lindholm rushed for over 450 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 8.6 yards per carry, and also caught 12 passes. He’s one of the four leading rushers from last season that return for Centennial, including James Scott, who led the team with 524 rush yards and four touchdowns.
Taylor said it’s great to have them back, especially with how much Centennial tends to rely on the run.
When the Coyotes do throw the ball, it will come from the arm of Josh Gasca. As a junior, he did not see much action behind Jonathan Morris, now playing collegiately at Rocky Mountain in Montana.
That isn’t to say Gasca is an unknown or question mark.
“Josh has been my quarterback since eighth grade, and he’s never failed to impress,” Lindholm said. “He’s totally adapted to the offense, and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Centennial aims to continue its overall run of dominance.
The Coyotes are a stunning 49-6 the last three seasons. But with COVID-19 impacting the offseason, the preparation for this year has been anything but normal. In fact, this was the first week the players were allowed to be in the locker room before and after practice.
“Now that we have the locker room, we are a lot more comfortable with each other,” said senior linebacker Devin Sanchez. “We’ve gained a lot of chemistry.”