TRAVERSE CITY — Monday officially started football practice, but for Traverse City Central and schools all around northern Michigan, the work began well before that.
Trojan seniors organized group text chats to maximize participation at offseason workouts, weight training and the team’s four 7-on-7 scrimmages.
“We’ve had tremendous leadership by our seniors,” Trojans fifth-year head coach Eric Schugars said. “They’ve led by example. We only have 13, but they’ve done a great job. I’ve been really pleased with how they have handled it.”
Jordan Liggett, Luke Morrison and Trey Searles played a key in that, frequently reminding teammates of 7 a.m. lifting sessions and making sure players without cars had a lift to get there.
Central has put up a 33-10 record the last four years, and the pressure of living up to that expectation — as well as a five-year playoff streak — has this year’s senior class looking to everything it can to continue or surpass those goals.
“We have something to build up to from the past,” senior linebacker Jordan Liggett said. “We have a level we need to hit or exceed.”
The Trojans return five starters on offense and six on defense.
But gone are familiar names like Tobin Schwannecke, Jack Sherwin, Moswen Kirksey, Sam Schmitt and Jason Ochoa.
Central will field a completely revamped defensive secondary, including former Trojans head coach Tom Passinault returning to TC Central to guide that unit.
“We’re going to be young there,” Schugars said of the secondary. “We’re young today, but guys have opportunities. By opening day, we may not be young.”
Carson Briggs, who generated quite a bit of recruiting interest in the offseason, is expected to lead the Trojan trenches.
Luke Morrison is back at guard and linebacker, Trey Searles at wide receiver (and now DB), Jordan Liggett at H-back and linebacker and Tylor McCoon at tight end and defensive end after an all-state season at punter a year ago.
“I’m excited to see how our DBs come along and step up,” Morrison said. “Our D-line has a lot more returners and we have quick guys, big guys all around.”
Mitch Stachnik will see action at multiple positions, including linebacker, safety, split end and back up at quarterback.
“There’s certain names that aren’t here from last year,” Schugars said. “But your job is to make the guy next to you better. The seniors, they’ve lived that this summer.”
The addition of Ithaca transfer Peyton Smith at quarterback allowed Stachnik and Josh Burnham to move to other roles.
“The transition has been pretty smooth,” Schugars said. “The seniors have been great with that. You have a new guy, but it helped our depth at other places. He’s earned his stripes and been humble.”
Searles said the switch from Schwannecke to Smith has jump started the offense, allowing Stachnik to switch to split end.
“We’re really excited to put it on the field,” Searles said. “Coming from Tobin, he’s a different type of quarterback. More of a passer. He’s adjusted well and is going to be great for our team.
“There’s a lot of big shoes to fill. Our coachability has been good so far. We’ll see when pads come.”
The Trojans have 36 players currently on varsity, with seven sophomores on the roster. Three of those sophomores — Kadyn Warner, Keegan Opper and Gavin Graczyk — are competing for starting spots on the offensive line.
“Rebuild this team, keep our heads up and push through it,” Liggett said. “We lost a lot of guys, but we’re going to keep moving forward.”
Central has a scrimmage along with TC St. Francis, Mount Pleasant and Saginaw Swan Valley at Mount Pleasant at 11 a.m. Aug. 22. The Trojans play the same schedule as last season, aside from hosting DeWitt Aug. 29 to begin the season instead of last season’s opener at Bay City Western.
“With the standard the old guys kept, we’re looking to carry that on,” Morrison said. “We expect to make the playoffs and have everyone work hard every day.”