Unfamiliar Territory: Trojans Seeking a Quick Turn Around

Back in 1997, a six year playoff drought for Triopia High School football ended when Jay Wessler’s Trojans finished the regular season with a record of 7-2. From that point on, the boys in Columbia blue have advanced to the post-season 13 out of 16 seasons, including a streak of 12 straight playoff appearances from ’01 to ’12. Since taking over as head coach back in 2007, Rich Thompson’s teams have qualified for the playoffs 7 out of 8 years. Of those seven squads, two have advanced to the state quarterfinals, one to the semis, and in 2008, the Trojans ran the table, bringing home the school’s first State Championship since 1975. 

Yet despite the impressive track record over the past decade and a half, each year is a new year and each team is a new team. In the fall of 2013, Triopia witnessed its first seven-loss season in nearly 20 years and an end to their stretch of 12 straight playoff births. For the fans, the coaches, and most importantly for the players, this wasn’t what Triopia football was all about. Now, as the fall of 2014 commences, the Trojans find themselves in some unfamiliar territory, hoping to prove to themselves and the rest of the WIVC, that last year was simply an aberration. 

Coach Rich Thompson talked about what went wrong last year, and how he has approached the upcoming season. “We were pretty young last year and we had lost some key guys. Our approach this year is getting back to the basics. Looking back, we didn’t tackle well, we didn’t block well, just all the little things we could improve upon. And it seemed once things started going wrong last year, it kind of snowballed on us.”

Triopia’s bread and butter has always centered around a methodical run game through the Wing-T offense, backed by a solid defensive front and fundamental tackling. Their ground-and-pound rushing attack allows the offense to string together long drives that wear down opposing defenses and eat up large chunks of the clock. The most successful Triopia teams consistently win the time of possession, picking up three to six yards per carry and setting up manageable short yardage situations on 3rd downs. And its not as if this recipe for success changed with last year’s Trojans. From a schematic standpoint, Triopia’s game plan was the same as it always has been. So where did last year’s team go wrong?  

Simply put, last year’s Trojans forgot the central premise of a grind-it-out rushing offense: winning the time of possession requires valuing the actual football itself. Without the ball, nothing gets accomplished. Over last year’s nine regular season contests, Triopia’s offense accounted for an astounding 29 fumbles, 17 of which were recovered by the opposition.  

“If I remember correctly, in Week 1 against Pleasant Hill I think we had seven fumbles…and from that point on it seemed to plague us for the rest of the season. We would get something going and then we’d put the ball on the ground. And so this year we’ve really emphasized being cleaner on offense and overall more crisp” said Coach Thompson on his concerns regarding ball security.

Still, despite the turnover epidemic, Triopia was more competitive than their 2-7 record might indicate. Two games, a home opener against Pleasant Hill and a Week 4 road game at Brown County, might have been the difference between 2-7 and 4-5, or even perhaps 5-4. Both games ended with the score of 12-8, with Triopia on the losing side each time. In the case of the Pleasant Hill game, it was mentioned previously that the Trojans coughed up the rock seven times, a formula that rarely results in a W. As for the Brown County game, the decisive score came with less than 10 seconds left, as the Hornets found the endzone on their last offensive possession. 

When asked about the two games, Coach Thompson reflected on their overall impact, saying “Those were two pivotal games for the rest of our season. Getting upset by Pleasant Hill at home to start the season was a blow to our ego, no doubt about it. And the Brown County game seemed to be kind of a back-breaker for us during the season, because we really stayed in it the whole game on their home turf until they scored on what was essentially the last play of the game.”

So there is bad news and good news. 

The bad news: Triopia’s schedule does not get any easier this year.  With the recent addition of Camp Point Central to the WIVC North and the loss of ISD, coupled with games against potential playoff teams from the WIVC South, getting back to .500 will be no walk in the park. 

The good news: Triopia returns as many as 17 seniors, many of whom will carry the load of the work on both sides of the ball. Up front, the Trojans bring back four of their five offensive lineman from a year ago in Griffin Greene and Victor Whited as the two guards, Jordan Smith moving from left tackle to center to replace of Jonathon Medlock, and Jesse Howell, who returns from a knee injury that has sidelined him since Week 4 of last year. 

As for the backfield, Dean Arendt, Will Alexander, and Matt Parker are familiar names who the Trojans will turn to for their power run game. Last year, the trio combined for more than 1,300 yards on the ground. Undoubtedly, the biggest question mark for Triopia heading into 2014 is who will be taking snaps at quarterback. Last year, Tristan Wise and Nathan Shanks split time under center. But with Shanks having transferred to Carrolton and Wise being moved to tight end and running back in hopes of utilizing his speed and athleticism, all signs point to sophomore Isaac Werries. 

“We’re excited about what we return. A lot of the guys coming back were key guys last year and we feel like we are the deepest at fullback and running back. Moving Wise to running back gives us more speed, along with sophomore Blake Lawson who we see as sort of a ‘home run hitter’.” said Thompson. 

Ultimately, if the Trojans turn things around this year, it will start by not hurting themselves with turnovers. Next, Triopia will need to find a way to come out on top of some close, low scoring affairs. Whether 2013 will be seen as anomalous or ordinary is up to the group of seniors, who look to gather their pride and uphold their school’s celebrated tradition. 

North Greene Spartans: Taking the Next Step: Spartans Hungry for More Playoffs

When Tony Rhoades was hired as the head football coach at North Greene High School back in 2011, he inherited a team with just six wins over the previous four seasons. To those on the outside, the prospect of a winning record, let alone a playoff birth, seemed attainable only in the distant future. Now entering his fourth year at the helm, Coach Rhoades has taken the Spartan program from the cellar of the WIVC South to the doorstep of some of the conference’s best.

After going 1-8 in his first year, Rhoades and the Spartans have a regular season record of 9-9 since the fall of 2012, including the school’s first post-season appearance since 2005. While others will say the Spartans are ahead of schedule in the building process, the coaches and players see themselves as being right on track. 

“It’s about establishing your program. Getting the kids to really buy in and believe. Getting them to realize  that they know what it takes to win,” said Coach Rhoades “Last year, getting over that hump to make the playoffs was a huge step, and now these kids are hungry for more.”

Over the span of three short years, taking the next step went from a matter of how to a matter of when. In terms of personnel and ability, the Spartans matched up well with nearly every team in the conference, a point evidenced by several close-scoring games last fall. 

Entering a Week 7 match up against conference rival West Central, North Greene’s record stood at 2-4 with three games left to play. The Spartans were in the midst of a three-game conference losing streak in which each game was ultimately decided in the second half. With 6-3 out of the question,  North Greene now needed a three-game winning streak to get to 5-4 and qualify for the post-season. 

As difficult as it was, the Spartans matured over the course of the losing streak. Not only did they learn that they could compete with the conference’s best, they also learned what it would take to win. And win they did, taking all three games to end the regular season, beginning with a narrow six-point victory over the Cougars of West Central. Two shutout victories over ISD and Mendon Unity to end the season gave the Spartans a 5-4 record and a spot in the Class 1A playoffs. 

Having sampled the savory taste of playoff football, the Spartans not only crave more, they are ready to scarf down a full helping. “We don’t just want the playoffs now,” said Rhoades, “we want to host a playoff game and go as deep as we can.” 

The biggest advantage for North Greene on their road back to the playoffs is the number of seniors they return on both sides of the ball. As the first group of seniors to play all four years under Coach Rhoades, these are they guys who helped set the bar high last year and who hope to raise it even higher this year. 

Leadership on offense will start with senior quarterback Nathan Randall. His ability to move the chains both through the air and on the ground was key for the Spartans last fall, and with another offseason of preparation under his belt, Randall will feature as the centerpiece of another efficient offensive attack. Lining up behind Randall will be senior running back Chas Lewis. As more of a scat-back type, look for Lewis to have the biggest impact in the open field, where his quickness and agility give him the advantage over size and strength. Aside from the run game, Lewis also poses a threat on special teams,  returning kicks and punts.

Anchoring the Spartan defense is senior linebacker Zach Reische, who led the area in tackles last year as a junior. At 6’3 195lbs, Reische utilizes his combination of speed and power to consistently disrupt opposing offenses. Toss in his instincts and ball skills (he also plays tight end), and its easy to see why Reische is set for another huge year. Kolten Heberling, another senior linebacker, will be there to clean up anything Reische doesn’t get to first. Heberling will also get his share of the carries on offense, where he plays fullback. 

With Carrolton and Greenfield looking strong again this fall, taking control of the WIVC South will be a formbidable challenge from start to finish, but its certainly not beyond the realm of possibilities. Finding a way to beat both Pleasant Hill and West Central will be crucial to the Spartans regular season outcome, as well as a non-conference game against 3A Oakwood Armstrong. If all goes accordingly, Coach Rhoades and his group of senior leaders could be looking at hosting a playoff game come early November. 

West Central Cougars: “On the Prowl: Don’t Sleep on the Cougars

As much as we might like to think otherwise, our allegiances to certain sports teams are contrived notions rather than innate qualities. Loyalties are bred from social interaction, and social interaction alone. Our families and friends tell us who to root for, whether its Mom dressing up their toddlers in Chicago Cubs onesies or Dad taking us to Busch Stadium for the first time (welcome to my childhood), we all learn fanaticism at one time or another. 

The beauty of all this is that our devotions can change over time due to certain circumstances. Take the West Central Cougars for example. As a co-op of Winchester and Bluffs, many of the current Cougars probably grew up in either purple and yellow wildcat apparel or blue and white Blue Jays gear.  And then there’s Alex Ebbing, the school’s newest head football coach, who over the last decade or so has donned either kelly-green and white, or even black and gold. 

Not only was Ebbing a three-sport standout at Brown County High School, but his new brother-in-law is Tom Little, the school’s head football coach. But his ties with the WIVC North don’t end there. From the fall of 2010 to May 2014, Ebbing served as an assistant under head coach Brad Dixon at Central High School in Camp Point. Its safe to assume that this year’s Spring involved a thorough cleaning out of Mr. Ebbing’s closet, replacing the mixture of green and gold for the silver and black of the Cougars.

With his loyalty now fully pledged to West Central, Ebbing hopes to develop yet another tradition of winning football. “We have high expectations for the kids,” said Ebbing, “Its about changing the mentality of the culture. When I was in high school, Brown County wasn’t really known for football the way it is now, so it was nice being a part of that program and watching it build, and I was fortunate to be a coach at Camp Point at a time when their program really took off.”

Knowing that West Central football has just five playoff appearances in the last 20 years, it may seem like Ebbing has his work cut out for him. But consider the fact that two of those five appearances came in 2011 and 2012, coupled with the fact that last year’s team fell one game short of 5-4, and the Cougars’ high expectations seem much more probable. 

If you’re only able to catch two West Central games this fall, I’d be sure to mark the dates of September 26th and October 10th, when the Cougars square off against conference rivals Pleasant Hill and North Greene. Throughout last year’s regular season, these three teams engaged in a series of one-score games for third place in the WIVC South. In Week 5 the Cougars topped the Wolves 24-16, pulling them within two wins of a playoff birth, but in a decisive Week 7 game at North Greene, the Cougars fell six points short of win number 4. They eventually got their fourth win the following week against Triopia, but their Week 9 match up at undefeated Central High sealed the Cougars fate. 

The results of these matchups gave the Spartans of North Greene sole possession of third place, but more importantly, they ultimately decided who advanced to the playoffs and who had to stay home. Coach Ebbing talked about the pivotal nature of two games.

“That’s the best part about the WIVC,” said Ebbing, “Whether you’re in the north or south, every game is a competitive game. You have to do your homework every week and be prepared or somebody is going to knock you off.”

One of the bright spots for West Central this year is a strong Junior class, many of whom were a major reason why the Cougars came away with four victories last year. In what will undoubtedly be a recurring theme in these articles on teams from the WIVC, the fulcrum for the Cougars’ success will be the offensive and defensive lines, led by junior Jeff King. Described by Ebbing as an “unbelievable leader”, King’s plus-sized frame, relentless motor, and tireless work ethic is exactly what 1A football coaches consider an ideal big man. 

Equally important to the Cougars is the guy King will be snapping the ball to. Kobie Hoover, another member of the aforementioned class of Juniors, will be asked to lead by example at the quarterback position. As West Central adopts an offense similar to both of Coach Ebbing’s former schools, Hoover will be asked to carry the ball, control the clock, and oversee a more run-friendly approach.

If I was asked who might have the most noticeable impact on this year’s Cougar squad, my most likely answer would be Logan Barnett. The junior will line up at safety in the defensive secondary and as a receiver/running back on offense. In watching a few of West Central’s 7-on-7 games this summer, Barnett’s presence was seemingly impossible to miss. Athletically and instinctively, it’s hard to find a more dynamic commodity in 1A football. 

Coming off a 4-5 season in a stacked conference such as the WIVC South, West Central might be flying under some people’s radar as they enter 2014. Make no mistake about it, this Cougar team might be fairly young in some respects,  but they are also comparatively skilled and experienced, not to mention hungry for a return to the post-season. Their coach may be young, but he is no stranger to winning. And when the Cougars travel to Brown County on September 5th,  both Coach Ebbing and the Cougars will wear their colors with pride and conviction. 

New Berlin Pretzels: Pretzel-Puns, Father-Sons: New Berlin Sets High Hopes for 2014

In the world of sports journalism, the term “low-hanging fruit” refers to any storyline or narrative thats easy to grab onto and run with. In the case of New Berlin High School football in the fall of 2014, the story you’ll find in most of the Pretzel’s previews will revolve around the relationship of Coach Barry Creviston and his son Chase.

At first I thought about avoiding the narrative because I sought originality. But the more I studied New Berlin football and assessed who and what they were, I realized that redundancy should be the least of my worries. In truth, the focus on the Crevistons goes beyond their shared bloodline. Sure, it is a father’s dream to coach his son in the sport which they both love dearly, but the actual football itself – Chase’s performance between the lines and Barry’s work outside of them – simply cannot be overlooked. 

As for the coach, Barry Creviston wasted no time implementing his brand of winning football into the Pretzel program when he arrived at New Berlin back in 2012. After a 2-7 start in his first year, Coach Creviston and the Pretzels quickly turned things around in year two, going 5-4 in the regular season and ending the school’s two year hiatus from the playoffs. 

Then there’s his son Chase, the senior wide-out coming off of a junior campaign in which he earned an honorable mention for Class 2A’s All State Team. His decorated 2013 season included more than 800 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns, not to mention his accomplishments in the classroom, which earned him a spot on the All-State Academic team. To football purists and old-school advocates, Creviston’s no-glove approach to the receiver position is both efficient and aesthetically pleasing.

“He’s one of our hardest workers. He’s the first guy here and the last guy to leave,” said Coach Creviston of his son, “and he wants to win as badly as anybody.”

But the Creviston combo isn’t all the Pretzels have to offer. In fact, New Berlin enters 2014 with more skill and experience than the school has had in recent memory. Senior quarterback Jake Hunt returns for his third year as the Pretzel’s field general, and as good as the Hunt-Creviston connection was last fall, look for it to be even better after sharpening their blades over the course of the offseason.  

Being right on the border of 2A and 3A, many of New Berlin’s starters will log major minutes on both sides of the ball. A name that is sure to be heard frequently throughout the year will be that of Cam Cummings, a senior who will start at both running back and defensive back.  Cummings, along with Creviston and fellow senior wideout Connor Burger, give the Pretzel’s a multitude of options offensively.

Anchoring the Pretzel defense will be the familiar names of Michael Spradlin and Caleb Horchem. At middle linebacker, Spradlin’s job will be to quarterback New Berlin’s defense in an offensively potent Sangamo Conference. Behind him, Horchem will look to lead an athletic and experienced secondary at the safety position. 

“With the guys we have coming back, to say I’m excited would be an understatement,” said Creviston, “if we’re going to do something, this year is the time to do it.”

When the Coach says “do something”, he means finding a way to come out of the regular season with six to seven wins, which would set the Pretzels up nicely for a deep playoff run. But just getting to the playoffs will require New Berlin to safely navigate through one of the toughest 2A/3A conferences in the state. “Weeks 1 through 9 are all important,” said Creviston, “in poker, if you don’t know who the ‘sucker’ is at the table, the ‘sucker’ could be you.”

Out of the conference’s nine schools, six of them earned playoff spots in either Class 2A or 3A last fall. Two of New Berlin’s four losses last season came at the hands of perennial powers Williamsville and Auburn, with the other two coming in close losses to North Mac and Athens. In the one-point loss to Athens in Week 6 of last year, the final score was ultimately decided by extra-point attempts. As for the  Week 9 loss to North Mac, a game in which the Pretzel’s powerful offense was held scoreless, New Berlin failed to match the Panthers’ meager 14-point output, costing them their coveted six-win season, and matching them up against a one-seed in the following playoff week. 

The good news for the Pretzels is that this year they won’t have to wait until Week 9 to seek their revenge. “Last year I really preached that we had to be 3-0 to start the season, knowing that we had Williamsville in Week 4,” said Creviston, “but now this year, having never beaten North Mac, its not so much about starting 3-0, its more about ‘We got to beat North Mac’”, 

So as one of my must-see games of 2014, the New Berlin Pretzel’s road to glory begins on August 29th in Virden, an early match-up that could ultimately decide the playoff-seeds of each team, assuming they get there first. And with Auburn advancing all the way to the semifinals last year, they proved that if one can come out of the Sangamo with only two losses, there is a good chance of making some real noise in the 2A playoffs. 

Without a doubt, the Pretzels have all of the necessary tools to make a splash this year. Of course it will start with the Crevistons. The Coach-slash-Offensive Coordinator will have a plethora of talent to work with offensively in Hunt, Cummings, Burger, and son Chase, as well as an experienced defense led by a strong class of seniors. If the Pretzels sit at six or seven wins come playoff time, the ceiling for New Berlin football will have never been so high. 

Routt Rockets: Quality over Quantity: Rockets: Rockets Look to Get Back on Track

For nearly ever Class 1A football team in Illinois, dealing with a short supply of available athletes is a concern on a year in year out basis. With an average enrollment hovering just north of 100 students, Routt Catholic High School does well to get anywhere from 30 to 40 kids out for football each year. Yet despite the small numbers, over the years Routt has been relatively consistent in their production of high-quality players and teams. 

In the thirteen seasons since 2001, Routt has produced ten playoff teams, including eight in a row between ’04 and ’11. Four of those ten teams advanced past the first round, with the ’09 team making it as far as the State semifinals. If you go back far enough you’ll find another streak of eight straight post-season appearances beginning in the fall of 1977, one capped off by the program’s first and only State Championship in 1984.  

Unfortunately for Routt, over the two previous seasons the Rockets have deviated from the established trend. With just three wins in the last 18 games and a record of 1-8 last fall, second year head coach Heath Wilson hopes to alter Routt’s current course. 

“I think every year is a rebuilding year no matter what. Even if you win a state championship, you always lose those seniors,” said Wilson, “So of course we’re rebuilding, but of course we still expect to win, and our numbers are up from 21 last year to 30 now this year, so its going in the right direction.”

Adding nine more roster spots might not seem like a lot, but for smaller schools like Routt, it could potentially equate to higher numbers in the win column. Aside from the overall increase in number of players, the return of several key contributors from last year’s team will be crucial over a grueling schedule in one of the state’s best 1A conferences.

 Filling the void left by the graduation of last year’s running back Ben Whalen is the Rockets first order of business offensively. A pair of senior running backs in Keegan Hoots and Joe Nix will do their best to occupy the vacancy by sharing the majority of carries in what looks to be another run-heavy attack. Both Hoots and Nix have logged valuable minutes at the Varsity level over the past 3 years. Last fall, Nix featured as Routt starting quarterback while Hoots split much of the work load with Whalen. 

With Nix moving to the backfield, Routt will call on its youth to handle the snaps under center, and freshman Hunter Chumley appears to be the leading candidate to take over as the Rockets quarterback. Chumley enters Routt as part of the highly anticipated class of 2018, whose 8th grade Boys Basketball team brought home the IESA Class A State Championship last winter. Considering the athletic potential of this class, it could end up being the foundation for which Routt can build upon going forward. 

As is the case with any football team, the Rockets’ success will hench upon the strength of their offensive and defensive line. Holding down the trenches this year will be returning starter Cole Burke, who Coach Wilson described as “The leader in the weight room all summer.” While Chumley’s job will be protecting the ball and distributing it to his experienced backs, it will be the responsibility of Burke and the O-line to create the running lanes.  

In last year’s eight losses, the biggest problem for the Rockets was finding the endzone. Routt averaged just over 8 points per game, with drives frequently stalling before they could make any real advances down the field. “We’ve got to move the ball, we can’t go three-and-out every series. We’ve got to control the clock more,” said Wilson, “It’s easy for the other team if our defense is on the field the whole game.”

But while Routt hopes to make it easier on their defense, in the time that they’re on the field, the focus will be shutting down the opposition’s rushing attack. “Playing the the WIVC North, every school we play is basically run heavy,” Wilson said, “If we’re going to get beat, I’d rather get beat through the air.”

Getting back on track will be no simple task for the Rockets, with conference foes Camp Point Central and Brown County both looking poised for yet another run at the playoffs. But with Coach Wilson now having a full year under his belt, and with an increase in numbers, the Rockets could be close to turning things around. 

The good news for Routt, their second-year head coach is rather familiar with the process of building a winning football program. Wilson comes from St. Thomas More High School in Champaign, a school which didn’t exist until its establishment in 2000. By 2002, St. Thomas added football to its athletic programs, and as the team’s defensive coordinator, Wilson played a significant role in the school’s 6 consecutive playoff appearances from 2007 to 2012.  

Week 1 should be a solid indicator for how the Rockets will measure up this year, as they host the Warriors of Calhoun. One year ago Routt fell short in a narrow 20-12 loss down in Richland County during last fall’s opener, a game in which the Rockets were plagued by cramps and other injuries. Reversing the trend of the past two years requires the Rockets to get off to a start. The road to redemption begins on August 30th at Kraushaar-Rosenburg field.

Jacksonville Crimsons: Crimson Reciprocity: Jacksonville Looks to Live Up to the Past

Since taking over as the head football coach at Jacksonville High School back in 2001, Mark Grounds’ Crimson teams have constantly been associated with the biblical story of David and Goliath. Over the last 11 seasons, the Crimsons have advanced to the 5A playoffs 8 times. In 6 of those 8 post-season appearances, they have gone on to upset a higher seeded team in the first round, causing journalists to label them “giant-killers” or “king-slayers”. 

At the beginning of his tenure, Coach Grounds and the Crimsons embraced their role as underdogs and seemingly thrived because of it. But now as he enters his 14th year as Jacksonville’s commander in chief, the resurrection process is complete and the expectations continue to grow with each passing fall. And where some might feel overwhelmed with growing expectations, Coach Grounds and the Crimsons feel right at home.  

“As far as expectations, the kids want to live up to what we all have come to expect of Crimson football,” said Grounds, “which means playing hard for four quarters, and expecting to win.” 

With three of the last four Jacksonville teams making it past the first round of the playoffs, the key to upholding the Crimson tradition this year will be replacing many of last year’s key contributors. While the task may seem difficult, in truth, its a reality the Crimsons face year in and year out. “We had 8 guys from last year’s team receive collegiate scholarships for athletics, 7 of which are playing college football this year,” said Grounds, “but most of those guys came into last year as replacements for guys we lost in 2012.”

Two positions that require no reciprocity are those of left guard and left tackle. The left side of the Crimsons’ line features seniors Coulton Hillis and Gabe Megginson, who have occupied their respective positions for the last three years. The combination of Hillis and Megginson provides an advantage in both the passing and running game. Where Hillis brings plenty of power and exceptional speed, Megginson utilizes his sizable frame and extraordinary footwork. With Megginson already committed to play tackle at the University of Illinois, the Crimsons roster their second Big Ten lineman in as many years. 

Another name that will be familiar to Crimson fans is Zac Lonergan. As one of four players the Crimsons return offensively, the senior wideout looks to pick up where he left off in 2013, a junior season in which he accumulated more than 600 receiving yards. Lonergan’s 12 combined touchdowns from last year, made him the Crimson’s biggest threat to find the endzone, a place where he should be spending most of his time this year. 

One of the more anonymous Crimsons entering the 2014 season is junior quarterback Joe Brannan. As the first Jacksonville QB without the last name Schnitker, Lonergan, or Mills in the last 8 years, Brannan hopes to make a name for himself in his first year at the helm. His best qualities are found between in ears and attached to his right shoulder. Brannan is an intelligent kid with a seemingly unflappable demeanor to go along with his formidable arm strength. 

“When it comes to our program, some years kids are forced to sit behind some really good players,” said Grounds, “but once those guys get their chance on the field, they are really ready to get it done.”

Getting it done in the state’s most powerful 5A conference is an annual challenge for the Crimsons, who will go up against two defending state champions in Rochester and Sacred-Heart Griffin this year. And if the Leonard coaches weren’t enough already, the Crimsons will also go against Chatham Glenwood, a team that they have failed to defeat in nearly 20 years. On the more positive side though, is the fact that the CS8 now adds two schools from Decatur in MacArthur and Eisenhower, giving the conference 10 teams instead of 9. 

“It makes traveling much easier now that we don’t have to schedule any non-conference games,” said Grounds on the addition of the new schools, “And with a closed conference, a record of 5-4 is pretty much guaranteed to earn you a spot in the playoffs.”

As previously mentioned, for most of Coach Grounds’ time at JHS, Crimson teams have not only made the playoffs, but they have also done well once they get there. Yet despite all of the first round success, the Crimsons have fallen short the following round every year with the exception of 2004’s semifinal team. 

“Making the playoffs 3 of the last 4 years has been a learning experience for all of our guys even if they weren’t on the field,” said Grounds, “In order to take that next step, we’ve got to be a little more stout defensively, and on offense we can’t allow teams to make us one dimensional.”

Arguably the most positive aspect of Jacksonville’s squad this year is the athletes they have on the defensive side of the ball. Second-year defensive coordinator Dan Scott has put together a game plan which emphasizes attack, and the Crimsons have plenty of athletes to do so. If there is one player you might not know of right now, the name Juan Jackson will surely be recognizable once the season begins. The senior cornerback’s aggresiveness and tenacity allows Coach Scott and the rest of the defense to pin their ears back and suffocate the run-game, while Jackson and the secondary control the airways. 

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About the author

Sports writer with two and a half years as Jacksonville High School's starting quarterback from '06 to '08. Blake currently volunteers his knowledge as a football coach.

View all articles by Blake Schnitker

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