Davenport Central’s football program has been stuck in neutral.

For the past three years, the Blue Devils have been muddled near the middle of the pack in the Mississippi Athletic Conference.

They were 5-5 three years ago, followed by back-to-back 4-6 seasons and first-round exits in the Class 4A postseason.

Central is eager to find the next gear in the win-loss column and in the playoffs.

“We’ve got to do everything at a totally different level than we have been the last few years,” senior tailback Zach Minch said. “I feel this group is ready to do it, and we’re prepared to be one of those top teams in the conference.”

The Blue Devils have just 33 players on their roster, but coach Mark Roering hopes the group’s success at the lower levels can translate to the varsity. The past three sophomore teams have compiled 8-1, 7-2 and 7-2 seasons, respectively.

Central hasn’t claimed a league championship since 1983, when it concluded a run of four titles in a six-year span.

“We’re not in the 1970s or 1980s any more, but we’re trying to get back there,” Roering said. “We’re not resting on the laurels of those days, but we understand the alumni and people at Central want to get back there and it is what we strive for as a program.”

Roering’s team has a new offensive coordinator and critical spots to fill on offense.

Bob Matthys takes over the play-calling duties for the Blue Devils. Minch said there are more option reads and anticipates Central throwing the ball more to utilize its speed and athleticism.

“There is a lot more going on in this offense than previous seasons,” senior receiver and defensive back Joey Faison said. “I was kind of skeptical at first about it, but the more we’ve worked with it, I think we’ll be fine.

“It will keep defenses on their heels.”

Tyvis Smith, the MAC’s leading rusher last season, is at Northern Iowa. Quarterback Nick Gowey and his top target, Ryan Cartee, graduated.

Minch, sixth in the 100-meter dash at the state meet in May, is expected to be the featured back. He had nearly 500 yards rushing and seven touchdowns last season as the fullback and No. 2 tailback.

But after playing at less than 160 pounds last season, Minch made a concerted effort to add weight in the offseason and enters the fall at almost 180.

“I’m totally ready for it,” he said. “I worked the whole offseason for this moment. I’m a senior now, and it’s my turn to get the job done.”

Juniors Tyler Pethoud and Alex Smith are the quarterbacks, while Minch and Leonard Smith are the only returning players who had at least one reception last year.

Defensively, the Blue Devils return most of their secondary, but lack size up front.

“We’re going to have to use our quickness, and we’re going to have to scheme and change up our fronts and blitz a little bit,” Roering said. “We just can’t give up big plays.”

Central opens the season at home Friday against Muscatine and travels to Bettendorf in Week 2, an immediate opportunity to prove this season can be different.

“We’ll find out a lot about us those first two weeks,” Roering said. “We’re definitely on high alert, so we’ve got to come out of the chute ready to go. We definitely don’t want to start in an 0-2 hole.”

AT A GLANCE

2011: 4-5 MAC, 4-6 overall

IMPACT PLAYERS

Zach Minch, senior, 5-9, 180, RB-LB

Joey Faison, senior, 5-11, 175, CB

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Chanslor Nicholson, 6-0, 215, FB-DT

FRESH FACES

Cameron Pugh, junior, 6-1, 190, RB-LB

Thomas Corbin, junior, 6-2, 250, OL

SCHEDULE

Aug. 24: Muscatine

Aug. 31: at Bettendorf

Sept. 7: Clinton

Sept. 14: at Davenport North

Sept. 21: at Burlington

Sept. 28: Davenport Assumption

Oct. 5: at Pleasant Valley

Oct. 12: at Davenport West

Oct. 18: North Scott

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