Now, of course, it’s more than just a new season for Central Washington football.

It’s a new era, with longtime assistant coach John Picha assuming the program’s reins after Friday’s firing of Blaine Bennett.

The Wildcats report today and begin workouts Thursday in preparation for their Sept. 7 season-opener at home against Texas A&M-Kingsville.

Picha, who played for the Wildcats before starting a coaching career that saw him serve 18 seasons as a full-time assistant, will today welcome 100-plus players plus several junior college transfers. The day will be spent with Picha and his staff dispensing equipment and holding meetings.

Central, which finished 7-4 last season and won its fourth GNAC championship in five years, looks to be especially strong defensively under second-year coordinator Malik Roberson.

The secondary should be exceptional with Stan Langlow at one safety and Deionte Gordon at the other. Langlow, who earned GNAC defensive player of the year honors last year despite bouncing between safety and linebacker, will wear jersey No. 44, which is symbolic of exceptional leadership.

Gordon played as a junior at Central before sitting out last year. Manning the corners, meanwhile, will be standouts Cedrique Chaney and Isaiah Davis.

In addition to the return of defensive frontliners such as Tovar Sanchez, Donnie Johnson and Gabe Bruno, linebackers Ridge Nielsen and Riley Wall should also excel.

“We have a lot of kids on that defense who are seniors and are providing senior leadership,” Picha said. “So I see our defense doing some great things this year.”

CWU’s offensive front led by seniors Mike Nelson, Brooks Abel and Neil Fuhrmann, and a running back corps including sophomore Jordan Todd and senior Ishmael Stinson, look experienced and talented. Stinson is coming off a broken collarbone that cost him virtually all of last season.

The biggest question appears at quarterback, where Picha must eventually choose from among redshirt freshman Jake Nelson, senior Jeff Nelson, redshirt sophomore Colin Walsh and Illinois State transfer Justin Lane.

“We’ve got to see who takes the snaps for Central Washington University,” Picha said. “It’s obviously a key position, and by the time we kick off on Sept. 7, we’d better have someone ready to handle that responsibility.”

Central must also find a new tight end and retool its special teams, although Davis has shown promise as a returner and true freshman Sean McDonald from Skyline High School will probably get a shot at the placekicking job.

The Wildcats, after playing their first two scheduled home games in Bothell last season because of air quality problems from nearby wildfires, are slated to start this year with three home games.

Western Oregon comes to Tomlinson Stadium for CWU’s conference opener on Sept. 14 with Simon Fraser following on Sept. 21.