BEAR CREEK — With less than six weeks left until the start of the regular season, the Chatham Central football team is still in search of a new head coach.
The Bears’ previous coach, Sherman Howze, resigned from his position last month after seven seasons with the team. Howze originally took over for Bob Pegram back in 2016. In Howze’s time with the team, Central amassed an overall record of 12-59.
“It’s hard saying goodbye to a school that you truly love …” Howze wrote in a Facebook post back on June 29. “I care about my students so much. It hurts because i will always bleed Chatham Central Red.”
Last season, Chatham Central was the only Chatham County team to make the state playoffs despite finishing the regular season with a 2-9 record. The Bears lost in the first round of the 1A tournament to Rosewood, 44-6.
Central struggled with numbers during the 2022 season, rostering a total of 28 players. This was an issue long before then, though, as the last time the Bears had more than 40 players listed on their roster, according to MaxPreps, was 44. Chatham Central also doesn’t have a JV team.
Things look like they could be different this fall, though. On their MaxPreps page for the 2023 season, the Bears list 48 varsity players. That number does include 16 incoming freshmen, but it’s an encouraging sign for a program that has struggled to find bodies for several seasons.
Among the top players expected to return for Central this upcoming season is rising senior Devonte Johnson, who plays both running back, free safety and kick returner for the Bears. Last fall, Johnson ran for 465 yards and six touchdowns and caught 12 passes for 220 yards and one score. He was also third on the team in total tackles with 44 in 2017.
Central will bring back most its players from a defense that allowed 32.8 points per game to opponents last fall. Two rising seniors expected to contribute in a big way are linebacker Omar Brower (62 tackles, two sacks, three fumble recoveries) and defensive end Conner Kitchens (55 tackles, two sacks).
The Bears open the 2023 season Aug. 18 on the road at North Stokes. Central will play two nonconference opponents before beginning Mid-Carolina Conference play Sept. 1 on the road at Southeast Alamance — a new school playing for the first time this fall.
Central is in a conference with the other three Chatham County football teams — Jordan-Matthews, Seaforth and Northwood. The Bears have won their past three games against the Jets but have a 3-8 record against them since 2010. Central lost its lone meeting with Seaforth, 30-20, last season, and hasn’t played Northwood since back in 2008.