In addition to having Kevin Crane as the new head coach, the San Angelo Central High School football team will also have a new starting quarterback and a lot of other first-year starters in 2021, but the expectations will remain the same for the Bobcats.

Crane helped Central qualify for the playoffs 11 straight years under former head coach Brent Davis before the longtime offensive coordinator took over the reins this past spring.

“We’re excited,” Crane said. “We’ve got some new faces, but we’ve got some old, familiar faces, too, some guys who have been around and played for awhile. Like Kobe Moore, our center, he’s been on varsity since his freshman year and now he’s a senior.

Central head football coach Kevin Crane addresses the varsity team prior to the annual spring game Thursday, May 20, 2021.

“The kids came in in good shape. Somebody asked me the other day if I could compare this team to some of our teams that we’ve had in the past. That’s hard to do, but every year you’re optimistic and you’re excited and you’ve got high hopes.”

The Bobcats, who opened fall workouts on Monday, finished 5-6 overall and 4-2 in District 2-6A last season. 

The Bobcats were eliminated in the area round of the playoffs against Fort Worth Eaton, but they were dealt a big blow when then-starting quarterback Malachi Brown was sidelined with apendicitis and sophomore Tyler Hill had to make his first start at QB in a tough situation.

The 6-foot-2, 175-pounder Hill, who is now a junior, spent most of last year at wide receiver.

The Bobcats are counting on Hill to be the next great Central QB.

San Angelo Central's Ty Casey, left, closes in on a Killeen Shoemaker player during the Bobcats' season opener in Killeen on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020.

“He’s got a really strong arm, probably comparable to (current Texas Tech QB) Maverick (McIvor),” Crane said of his junior QB. “Some of the throws he can make are pretty impressive. What a lot of people didn’t see in the spring was his running ability. 

“I looked back at the Eaton film from last year, and he rushed for just over 200 yards against a good playoff team. He really can run and really can move, and I’m excited to see how he progresses as he goes along here, not just this year, but next year, too.”

Hill knows how fortunate he is to have the keys to the Bobcats’ high-octane spread offense turned over to him.

“I’m actually really excited and a little nervous,” the junior QB said. “I guess it’s like that for everybody, especially for it being my first year to have the starting job. 

“It’s unpredictable, but I’m excited to see what our offense and defense can do on the field this season. It’s definitely an exciting thing for me being out there leading a team I never thought I’d be leading.”

Kente Nichols, left, keeps his eyes on an opponent for the Bobcats on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019.

Hill’s teammates have confidence in him as the field general.

“He just has it,” senior offensive lineman Andres Sanchez said. “I’ve been going to these games since I was in sixth or seventh grade, and I just see it. And I’ve been going to the camps for that long, and I’ve seen these quarterbacks progress, and he has what it takes. He just needs to have that confidence and he’s there.”

Junior defensive lineman Cadin Pizzola has been impressed from what he sees in the Bobcats’ offense.

“I think those guys are all studs,” Pizzola said. “Tyler’s a stud, too, and he’s been working his butt off, always trying to get better. He’s a great guy and a great teammate.”

Central returns 24 lettermen, including seven starters on offense and six on defense.

San Angelo Central's Samuel Navarrette runs the ball against Odessa High in a District 2-6A football game at San Angelo Stadium on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.

The Bobcats’ receiving corps is young, but Crane feels good about how the group will come together.

“Some familiar names are (senior) Cayden Box, he’s played some over the last two years, and ‘Gippy’ — (junior) Jaedyn Gipson — also played some last year,” Crane said. “And (senior) Baylor Johnson saw some time last year. 

“And then there’s some newbies like (senior) Trevor Scott, (junior) Jacob English, (junior) Tyler Walker and (junior) Cedric Fuentes. All of those guys are coming off our JV, so I’m looking for big things from those guys.”

Junior backup quarterback Ben Imler will play receiver when he’s not in at QB because Crane says “he’s such a good athlete and we need to get him on the field.”

Darius Floyd, center, rushes the ball for Central during a game against Schertz Clemens in Schertz, Texas on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020.

As for the running backs, junior Darius Floyd is back healthy after suffering a broken finger early in the season a year ago.

“We’ve certainly got high hopes for him, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do,” Crane said. “He looks a little looser in the hips this year than he did last year. He’s lost a little weight and he’s super strong, so we’re excited about that.”

Senior running back Sam Navarette was productive for the Bobcats last year (376 yards rushing, 6 TDs), and he’s expected to get a lot of playing time again. 

Sophomore running back Tyree Brawley is a move-in from Big Spring who will get some opportunities as well.

The offensive line will be led by Moore.

“Kobe’s been our center for awhile now and he’s done a great job,” Crane said. “He had a great summer working. He’s really lost some weight, but he’s stronger than he’s ever been.

“And then we’ve got a couple of guys back from last year — (senior) Andres Sanchez, our left tackle who played right tackle last year. We moved him over to the left side. He’s a two-year starter and a really good player for us.”

San Angelo Central's Jaedyn Gipson fights to hold onto the ball after making a reception against Odessa High during a District 2-6A football game at San Angelo Stadium on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.

Some other linemen fighting for starting spots include seniors Edward Best and Bruce Smith, and juniors Josh Arizmendi and Eric Martinez.

Defensively, it all starts with the big men up front.

“We’ve got a little bit of depth there,” the Bobcats coach said. “We’ve got some guys we feel like we can rotate in and out. Obviously, having depth up front is important and we feel like we do.

“Those guys don’t have a ton of varsity experience. A lot of them were on the JV last year, but we do have some bodies that we can rotate in and out. Overall, I think it’s going to be a pretty good group.”

San Angelo Central's Bryson McNutt tries to tackle Killeen Shoemaker's De'Andre Exford during the season opener for both teams at Leo Buckley Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. Shoemaker rolled to a 61-35 victory.

The D-line includes defensive ends Stryler Price and Pizzola, and defensive tackles Justin Barton, Treyce Roberts, Breylon Green, Gabriel Balli and Joe Gonzales. They’re all seniors, except for Pizzola.

The linebacking corps will be led by senior Bryson McNutt.

“He’s our middle linebacker who obviously played a lot last year,” Crane said. “He’s a kid who just loves football and everything about it, so we’re excited about him.”

Other linebackers who are expected to make big contributions include seniors Jayden Limon and Caleb Russell, and junior Evan Arnold.

Senior Ty Casey started out at linebacker last year, but moved to strong safety and that’s where he will start this fall.

San Angelo Central High School football players go through the first day of fall workouts at San Angelo Stadium on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021.

The rest of the secondary includes seniors Sutton Grantham and Kente Nichols, and junior Austin Johnson.

Special-teams wise, proven veteran Erick Rodriguez will be handling the kickoff and kicking duties.

“I’m looking for big things from him,” Crane said of his junior kicker. “He’s a pretty big weapon for us, as far as kicking the ball deep and kicking extra points and field goals and things like that.

“Having him back and healthy is going to be important, so we’re looking forward to that.”

The punter spot hasn’t been determined yet. 

A San Angelo Central High School player runs the ball after making a reception on the first day of fall workouts at San Angelo Stadium on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021.

Looking ahead to the district race, Texas Football magazine has picked Midland Legacy (formerly Midland Lee) as the favorite, followed by Odessa Permian, Central and Abilene High. Frenship, Midland High and Odessa High round out the rest of 2-6A.

Crane says it’s hard not to think of Legacy as the favorite.

“They’ve got a lot of kids coming back and a lot of skill all over the field,” the Bobcats coach said. “They’ve got a lot of tradition and things like that. I think Permian’s going to have a good team. They beat Legacy last year, and I think they’ll be solid as well. 

“And Abilene High, they’re well coached and they always do things so well. I think they’ll have a good team as well. And Midland High with (Thad) Fortune going over there, I think he’s going to do a great job over there. I think they’ll be right in the thick of it.”

Head coach Kevin Crane, left, talks with quarterback Tyler Hill, right, during the Central Bobcats spring football game Thursday, May 20, 2021.

Odessa High also has a new coach (Dusty Ortiz).

As for Frenship, the Tigers had more than their share of injuries last year, so Crane thinks they’ll be improved.

“It’s always a tough district and I don’t think it’ll be any different this year,” the Central coach said. “It’s exciting to be playing those teams and playing out here in West Texas. I think it’ll be a dogfight every Friday night.”

The Bobcats are hoping to make a run at a district title in Crane’s first season as head coach.

“That’s goal No. 1,” Crane said. “We always talk about trying to be district champions. That means a lot, especially for playoffs and things like that. As far as getting home games for playoffs, there’s a lot that goes into that.

“I certainly think we have the team to do it. Obviously, we’ve got to stay healthy and we’ve got to have some good luck. But if things fall into place, I feel pretty good about our team giving it a run.”

The San Angelo Central High School football team comes out for the second half against Killeen Shoemaker during the season opener for both teams at Leo Buckley Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020.

His players echo that confidence.

“That’s definitely something we’re pushing for and trying to get ourselves to that spot,” Hill said. “We’re working hard in practices and in the weight room and with conditioning.

“Everybody wants it, but it’s only going to happen for one team and we’re all pushing to get to that spot.”

Naturally, the senior class wants to go out with a bang.

“I’m real excited about how this year’s going to look,” Barton said. “I think it’ll be a whole lot better than last year. There’s always room for improvement everywhere.”

Central opens the season at home against Killeen Shoemaker on Aug. 27.

The district opener will be a homecoming contest against Frenship on Sept. 24.

Central Bobcats 

District: 2-6A

Head coach: Kevin Crane (0-0; 0-0 at Central)

Last year’s record: 5-6; 4-2 in district

Last district title/playoff appearance: 2017/2020

Enrollment: 3,087

Stadium: San Angelo Stadium

Returning lettermen: 21

Returning off./def. starters: 8/6

Base offense: Spread

Base defense: 4-2-5

Team strength: Offensive line

Team weakness: Inexperience

Players to watch

S Ty Casey (5-10, 190), QB Tyler Hill (6-2, 175), RB Darius Floyd (5-10, 225), WR Baylor Johnson (6-3, 180), CB Kayden Hameister (5-10, 165), CB Kente Pitts (5-10, 155), LB Bryson McNutt (5-9, 205), OL Kobe Moore (6-0, 250), OL Andres Sanchez (6-3, 240), DL Justin Barton (6-1, 275), WR Jaedyn Gipson (6-0, 185), WR Cayden Box (5-10, 170), S Sutton Grantham (6-0, 170), S Landon Cowley (5-10, 175), DE Stryler Price (6-1, 235), K Ethan Aguilar (5-10, 170), DT Gabriel Balli (5-9, 200), OL Josh Arizmendi (6-2, 250), OL Edward Best (5-10, 245), OL Eric Martinez (6-1, 235), OL Bruck Smith (6-3, 265), K  Erick Rodriguez (6-0, 150), WR Jacob English (6-3, 165)

2021 schedule

Date    Opponent

Aug. 27    Killeen Shoemaker

Sept. 3    at El Paso Montwood

Sept. 10    Austin Vandegrift

Sept. 17    vs. Amarillo Tascosa (at Canyon)

Sept. 24    Wolfforth Frenship*

Oct. 1    at Odessa High*

Oct. 7    Midland High*

Oct. 22    at Odessa Permian*

Oct. 29    Midland Legacy*

Nov. 5   at Abilene High*

*District game

2020 results

Opponent    Score

Killeen Shoemaker    L 35-61

Schertz Clemens    L 0-35

A&M Consolidated    L 35-40

Abilene High    W 53-32

Wolfforth Frenship    W 35-7

Odessa High    W 38-7

Midland High    W 54-31

Odessa Permian    L 38-58

Midland Lee    L 35-56

El Paso Eastlake    W 54-35

Northwest Eaton    L 16-40

Charles Bryce is a journalist covering sports in West Texas. Send him a news tip at Consider supporting West Texas journalism with a subscription to