There’s a sign located above the doorway that leads from the Centereach locker room to the football field that reads “Be the change!”

If there’s one thing that Centereach would like to change about last season was how it ended.

The Cougars needed a win in their last game to qualify for the postseason. But Centereach lost, 20-13, at Deer Park and ended with a 4-4 record.

“Seven points,” junior Alec Kiernan, “is a tight margin not to make the playoffs.”

Third-year coach Adam Barrett added: “It was tough to swallow, but in the end, we took a step in the right direction.”

Indeed. Centereach, seeded 11th in Suffolk Division II this season, returns six starters on offense and eight on defense.

“The kids have been working hard,” Barrett said. “The senior leadership has been outstanding.”

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Coaches around the division are taking notice. North Babylon’s Terry Manning recently mentioned Centereach as a team to watch.

Still, Barrett knows how tough things are week-in and week-out in the division.

“Our kids have confidence,” said Barrett, a Centereach alum (Class of 1998). “But this is not a division where we are going into any game saying, ‘We’re going to roll over somebody.’ ”

The Cougars will look to Kiernan at running back and outside linebacker. The 6-foot, 220-pound junior ran for 810 yards and made 52 tackles last season.

“He does everything for us on both sides of the ball,” said Barrett of Kiernan. “He’s one of our best tacklers and he runs hard. He’s also an outstanding leader.”

Centereach will count on senior receiver and defensive back Shawn McFarland. The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder had 30 receptions a year ago and added 40 tackles and four interceptions.

“He has great athleticism and good hands,” said assistant coach Paul Lettieri. “He attacks the ball and is tough to beat one-on-one.”

Senior WR/OLB Rob Montgomery is Centereach’s top returning tackler with 55 stops last season. Barrett and Co. also are hoping for big contributions from seniors Brahim Fennane (OL/DL), Kevin Amaya (RB/LB) and Aidan Podrang (OL/LB). Junior Jay Morwood will start at quarterback, and sophomore Josh Washington is a 6-foot-3 receiver and defensive back who should see playing time as well.

“We have amazing coaches, and we feel more like a family this year,” McFarland said. “A big family.”

Although the big family has big goals, its players are smart enough to realize they have to take things slow.

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“We just have to start by winning our first game [home against Smithtown West on Friday, Sept. 2],” McFarland said. “Then we just go from there and try to get better every day. We’d love to finish above .500.”

For an upstart team that has gone 10-30 in its last five seasons combined in Suffolk II, that would be an impressive change.