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Youthful Century football team will be tested early

The Rochester Century football team faces a tough start to the 2022 season. The young Panthers have just seven seniors on the squad.

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Century’s Eli Thompson (21) tries to chase down Mayo’s Carter Holcomb (11) during a 2021 Section 1AAAAA semifinal game at Mayo High School. Thompson, a junior, is one of many underclassmen that Century will be counting on during the 2022 season.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin file photo
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ROCHESTER — The Century High School football team will feature a bit of a youth movement this fall, but the Panthers will not have the luxury of easing into the 2022 season.

The Panthers have just seven seniors on the squad and coach Jon Vik is going to rely heavily on underclassmen.

“We don’t have a lot of seniors,” Vik said. “We’ve known this group was going to be small all the way through.”

Of the seven seniors, Josh Berg (WR/DB) and Ryan LaVoi (OL/DL) were starters in 2021. Ahmante Davis (RB/DL), Griffin Langer (WR/DB), Luke LaVoi (RB/LB) and Douglas Lee (TE/DB) were all in the rotation a year ago.

“Those kids are certainly going to play a role on our team on Friday nights and we have a junior class that has some good talent,” Vik said. “And we have a couple of sophomores who can contribute.”

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Just like a year ago, the Panthers face a very tough start to the season. Century plays the same eight teams in the exact same order as a year ago. The schedule is top heavy with New Prague, Owatonna, Mayo and Mankato West to open the year. Century was 0-4 against those teams in 2021 before bouncing back to finish 4-6 and reach the Section 1AAAAA semifinals.

Mayo and Mankato West (out of Section 2AAAAA) were both state-tournament qualifiers last year and West was the Class AAAAA state champion. Century lost to Mayo in the section semifinals.

“Out of all the teams in the Big Southeast (District), you would look at those four as being the ones that most people would say are the top four teams,” Vik said.

Loaded with underclassmen

Century’s roster will feature 19 juniors and 21 sophomores.

Juniors Jose Mares (WR/DB) and Carson Skime (RB/DB) will have bigger roles this season after being part-time starters in 2021. Two-way lineman Sean Guingon returns after missing last season with an injury while other juniors being heavily counted on will be Ron Chieves (OL/DL), Robert Falk (OL/DL), Drew Goetz (RB/LB) and Miles Prochnow (OL/DL).

Vik said about three or four sophomores could see a lot of action. Chris Garcia-Lara (WR/DB) and Ngalame Nkwelle Mesumbe (RB/LB) could crack the starting lineup.

“We’re going to be young across the board, at every position,” Vik said.

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Junior Harrison Esau will be the starting quarterback. He saw spot duty as a sophomore and he completed 8 of 11 passes for 114 yards.

The Panthers do have some skill position players back with experience, especially a pair of junior receivers. Jacob Wills led the team in receiving a year ago (22 catches, 10.9 yards-per-catch average) when he was honorable mention All-District. Eli Thompson, who shifted to tight end, was fourth (10 catches, 10.3 average) on the team in receptions. Berg was third on the team with 13 catches and he averaged 19.5 yards per grab.

“We’re going to have to rely on the fact that our kids have some ability as skill players, but they’re going to have to be able to play tough football,” Vik said. “Because (the Big Southeast District) is a tough brand of football.”

The Panthers have some potential on both sides of the line. Ryan LaVoi, Luke’s twin brother, should anchor the offensive line and is one player with good size at 6-foot-2, 275 pounds. Guingon is another key lineman, although Vik admits Century will again be lacking in overall size up front.

“We will not be one of the big teams in terms of size,” Vik admitted. “We’re not going to be ‘Push people around because we’re bigger and stronger than everyone else.’ But that’s never been our school. I can’t remember a time when we were the big strong team. We’ve always had good skill players.”

Century’s goal is to continue to get stronger in the weight room during the season, gain experience and work together as a team in an effort to be playing its best by the time the postseason rolls around.

“We need to get better each and every day and know our assignments,” Vik said. “When you have a young team, that’s all you can do is build on things.”

Century will play a pair of Saturday games, in back-to-back weeks, against Mankato West and Austin in weeks No. 4 and 5.

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“They’re having a major shortage of officials,” Vik said. “It’s one of those things you have to adapt to."

Panthers 2022 schedule

Sept. 2 — at New Prague, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 — Owatonna, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 — Mayo, 7 p.m.
Sept. 24 — at Mankato West, 12 p.m.
Oct. 1 — Austin, 6 p.m.
Oct. 7 — at Northfield, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 — John Marshall, 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 — at Winona, 7 p.m.

Guy N. Limbeck is a Rochester native who has been working at a daily newspaper since 1981. He has worked at the Post Bulletin since 1999. Readers can reach Guy at 507-285-7724 or glimbeck@postbulletin.com.
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