Plainfield South coach Bill Bicker just laughs when asked what the key point of emphasis for his Cougars will likely be this season.
“That’s no secret to anybody, we want to run the football, and we want to gain positive yardage on every play,” Bicker said. “It’s old-fashioned football. I guess I’m a dinosaur. Everybody else is spreading the ball out and throwing the ball 50, 60 times. We just want to run it. That’s just how we want to be.”
Adding to the argument that running the ball is where the Cougars best are served is the return of senior quarterback Cody Dieball. He runs the Cougars’ offensive attack with confidence and authority, which gives Bickell confidence that he’s the man to anchor an offensive unit that is a little short on returning experience.
“It all begins and ends with the quarterback,” Bicker said. “They are the ones that have all the reads. So it is nice to have a returning player there.”
Another place Bicker is confident is in the expected play of his defensive unit. The Cougars allowed just 132 points last season, or a little more than two touchdowns a game. If that unit, which has a number of returning players, can replicate that effort in a rugged Southwest Prairie Conference, Bicker feels they will be right where they need to be.
“Defensively, we’re in good shape, we’ve got a lot of people coming back,” Bicker said. “That’s just Plainfield South. I think that’s just something that we’re known for. We pride ourselves in playing strong, tough defense. We are going to anchor ourselves with our defense, and we’ll live by the old axiom: Stop the run and run the ball.”
Warrior coach Dave Ernst has a bit of an issue.
It’s an issue that’s he’s happy to have, but an issue nonethless.
Thanks to a variety of circumstances, the Warriors have a plethora of backfield options. So much so, that Ernst is starting to find other places to put some of those options.
He hadn’t planned on being a juggler, but there certainly are worse things to have to learn.
The team’s expected starting running back, Donte’ Barber, was lost on the first play of the season to a season-ending injury. He’s back and at full strength, while his replacement junior Caleb Marconi literally took the ball and ran with it – a lot.
Marconi still will factor heavily into the ground attack, but will also see a regular amount of playing time at linebacker. It’s hard to argue with the Warriors trying to get as much as they can out of Marconi, considering his excellent level of play from a year ago. Anthony Izzarelli, another contributing back, also returns.
On top of that, fullback Dylan Holstein is also back in the fold, allowing the Warriors to add yet another component to an already overflowing ground attack.
“We can move all of those guys around, all over the place, and if they make one mistake, it never happens again,” Ernst said. “There’s a lot of pieces, but it’s not like it is all for one spot. Some of them will play receiver. Some of them will play tight end. We’ll be pretty multiple in a lot of places.”
It’s almost a blessing in disguise that the Warriors were in need of quarterback, as another listed running back on the roster, Greyson Grimm, has been moved over to fill that void.
Almost lost in the shuffle is an extremely experienced offensive line that provides an incredible base of operations.
It obviously was a season where great strides were made for the Wildcats.
A substantial program demon was excised in Week 2 last season, as the 29-28 victory over Plainfield East snapped a 39-game losing streak for the program.
Once the Wildcats were freed from that particular painful streak, they caught their stride and rolled off another two wins to improve to 3-1. But the momentum didn’t carry over to the second half of the season.
Plainfield Central finished 4-5 in the regular season, one win short of a spot in the playoff field.
“Obviously getting that first win was a big focus for us, but once we had a little sustained success, the kids were focusing on two games or three games from that point, and we kind of lost our way,” Plainfield Central coach Jon Periero said. “So we’ve really been focused on getting guys to live in the present and worry about what is right in front of them. And the kids have really taken to that, so hopefully we’ve found a solution to that problem.”
So what has to happen for the Wildcats to make that next step and break through for the school’s first playoff appearance since 2012?
“We need to finish. Taking one thing a time, one game at time. But once we get there, we have to finish,” Periero said. “We did a better job of getting ourselves into position, but for whatever reason we’d take our foot off the gas. Some of that was the old culture, but also kids learning how to be succeed.”
Team unity also could be a key to the Wildcats pulling through a potential rough patch.
“These guys have come together more than any other team I have ever coached,” Periero said. “Maybe that is a critique of me and the previous coaching staffs that I’ve been a part of. But this team, they love each other. And they have a lot of fun playing football together.”