Coach Matt Kriesky and Centennial face several new challenges this year.

The Cougars move up a classification and into a brutal region, where they’ll battle powers like Independence, Brentwood, Franklin and Ravenwood.

A lack of depth and size requires a number of key players will play a lot on both sides of the ball.

The schedule out of the gate—road games at Ravenwood, Hendersonville and Independence—is sobering.

Kriesky is realistic, but also optimistic.

“We graduated 25 seniors from last year’s team, so we’re going to be young in a lot of spots,” he said. “Our seniors have done a great job this off-season, growing into leaders, developing into leaders, doing the things that I asked them to do.

“We’ve still got a long ways to go, but I feel by August 18, we should be where we need to be.”

Versatile players lead the way on offense…

The Cougars will run spread, two-wide, and wing-T sets depending on the situation.

“We’re going to be very multiple,” he said. “We’re going to try to take advantage of you with some numbers because we’re young, we’re small, we’re going to be very undersized on the offensive line.”

Senior Tavion Fleming (left), a shifty, 5-foot-10 utility player, will rarely come off the field. Several small colleges are eyeing Fleming, who’ll play a lot of receiver, at the next level.

“He’s going to be Mr. Everything for us—offense, defense and special teams,” Kriesky said “We’ve got to find an open space for him and get him the ball.”

Fleming had 1,049 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016.

Running back Jariel Wilson will see an expanded role this year.

“He came on late and had close to 700 yards rushing (last year),” Kriesky said.

Quarterback Tre Stewart is the son of former NFL defensive back Rayna Stewart. Tre has grown as a passer and has a feel for throwing the deep ball. The latter was on display when he hit Fleming with a 63-yard scoring strike in Friday’s scrimmage vs. Nolensville.

“He does a good job managing the offense, getting everyone lined up and doing what they’re supposed to do,” Kriesky said. “We’ll have to rely on his arms and legs this year. He’s a smart kid, a very athletic kid and knows the game of football. He’s going to be our leader on offense, he’s going to carry us.”

Like Fleming, Stewart is getting looks from some non-FBS schools.

Jacob Spears, a 215-pound junior, returns as a starter to lead the line. Senior Wyatt Grupa (225 pounds), Trevor Anderson (210) and Ryan Staples (250) are returnees who will also contribute there.

… and the defense

Wilson, a junior defensive back, may be the Cougars’ best player on that side of the ball.

“I think he was the third-leading tackler on our team last year,” Kriesky said. “He’s the quarterback of our defense, gets everyone lined up, makes the calls, makes the adjustments on the field for us.”

Sophomore Tre Carlton, a key running back for the Cougars, starts at safety.

Another two-way player, senior tight end Josh Rowan, might be team’s best linebacker.

“(Rowan will) be huge for us on both sides of the ball,” Kriesky said. “He was probably our second-leading tackler last year. He’ll play inside linebacker, he’ll play outside linebacker, he’ll play football on offense.”

Junior Sean Hannon will help at linebacker, too.

Six-foot, 255-pound senior Trevor Jones is the key player on the defensive line, where Anderson will also help.

More Fleming

Kriesky didn’t elaborate much on special teams plans, except to say that Fleming, who can score any time he touches the ball, will get a lot of work there.

A pair of unnamed sophomores will handle kicking duties.

Final analysis

After an 11-2 season with a pair of playoff wins, Kriesky has a bit of a rebuilding challenge.

The offense gives Centennial a shot. There’s a lot of upside with Stewart throwing deep to Fleming and with Wilson getting a lot of touches.

The Cougars don’t have a ton of margin for error. It’s hard to keep key guys fresh and healthy when they’re playing so many snaps.

Kriesky 28-8 for his career, is a good, young coach. If he can compete for the district title this year, his star figures to rise even more.