High School Sports

David Mitchell: Central needs young players to step up

If what I'm about to say sounds like I'm beating a dead horse, that's because I am. When it's the horse that got you where you are, then it's worth a few hundred extra words.

And despite the level of talent and production across the board on Central's football team, make no mistake Traveon Samuel is the best in show.

Samuel, who suffered a fractured fibula in last Friday's first-round playoff win over Murphy, is the key that makes the Red Devils offense go. He's the athlete who can make plays sideline to sideline, in the air or on the ground. The guy who, despite his diminutive stature, can push for those extra yards and ensure solid drives bear fruit in the end. He's the one opposing coaches circle in film sessions all week, trying to find a game plan that can slow him down and make Central find another way to win.

It's been that way for four years.

Coaches and players knew things would change in 2015 after Samuel graduates and takes up residence at Louisville, where he is currently committed to play college ball. Now, things just have to change a little sooner than expected.

That doesn't mean the results have to be any different. Central can still win its quarterfinal matchup with Prattville, a team Samuel had one of his best games against in a win earlier this season.

In order to do so, though, younger players who were still developing while Samuel and running back Kenneth Thomas were the focal points of the offense now have to step up a little sooner than expected.

Quarterback Zion Webb has, by all accounts, had a very successful sophomore season, his first full year as the starter under center. In the 10 regular-season games, he completed 102 of 199 passes for 1,826 yards, 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He added 77 carries for 372 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.

Nearly one third of those passing yards went to Samuel, however. And his connection with receivers Quan Weaver (junior) and Jamal Couch (sophomore) were at times spotty after Samuel's injury a week ago.

It's difficult for a sophomore to handle the pressure of taking a leadership role in the state playoffs, but that's something Webb will have to do in the absence of the team's heart and soul.

By the same token, the receivers must execute when given the opportunities, because they aren't playing a forgiving football team.

The first time Central met Prattville this season, a 42-34 win for the Red Devils, Webb and his big receivers did have an advantage over the undersized Lions secondary. Webb had over 200 yards passing in the first half and hit Couch, Weaver and Ethan Baber for touchdown passes over the course of four quarters.

Those opportunities should be there again, and it will be as important as ever to take advantage when they arise.

There are others Central will rely on. Baber and Thomas are also senior leaders on the offense, and running back Jaxton Carson has proven himself more than viable as a No. 2 in the ground game. The defense also played its best game of the year last week against Murphy, and will be called upon to do so again this week.

There is no doom and gloom in the Red Devils camp this week, nor should there be. Samuel's absence is important, but should do nothing to distract from the team's goals.

All it means is that others will have to take the reins and keeping driving this horse in the right direction.

David Mitchell, dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.com. Follow David on Twitter@leprepsports