The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
by: Jim Clayton, Quill Reporter
Mature, confident, sensible. These are not words we typically banter about when discussing today's teenager. But while interviewing members of the Illini-West football team last week those traits were clearly evident.
Offensive right tackle, Luke Burling, a senior, demonstrated the team's maturity level.
"The coaches are doing a great job getting us ready for the game, and we are looking forward to Saturday," Burling stated in reference to last Saturday's game.
"I played against Davis Hendrickson (Macomb running-back) in Legion baseball and he is a phenomenal athlete. I have never seen an athlete of his caliber," added Burling.
Team confidence was exuded by senior nose-guard and offensive left-tackle Ross Hutson. When asked if this could be the last game of the season, Hutson simply and calmly stated, "No way!"Ê
"This is a big challenge for us, a do or die situation - we are not taking anything for granted," Hutson admitted.
When asked what words of advice he had for the rest of the team Hutson said, "The one thing we do not want is for this to be the last game we play."
Senior lineman Kyle Hartzell was looking forward to playing Macomb and his outlook was laced with common sense.
"We are going to see our first true option offense (in Macomb)," Hartzell said.
"We had more prep time, but we also have to stay focused," He said in regard to this game which was played on Saturday rather than the typical Friday night.
These character traits served the Chargers well for this will not, in fact, be the last game they play.
When the final gun sounded at Fuzz Berges Field on Saturday afternoon the final score read: Illini-West 66, Macomb 14.
Led on offense by junior quarterback Michael Lafferty and junior running-backs Mitch Beals and Stefan Flynn the Chargers looked like the number two team in Illinois 3A high school football.
All three found their way into the end zone and junior Chris Vincent also scored from the defensive side of the ball when he recovered a fumble in the second quarter.
When interviewed last week, assistant head-coach Tim Lafferty said, "This will be the best team (Macomb) we have played this year. Our boys will be seeing a true division-I college athlete in Hendrickson, who will be playing baseball at the University of Illinois."
Coach Lafferty was also cautious about putting too much emphasis on one player. "They (Macomb) won four games without him (Hendrickson) in the line-up, including a win against number one ranked (at the time) Orion," he pointed out.
The other players the team was keeping an eye on were senior quarterback Kendall Hocker and Hamilton native Matt Gordy, junior wide-out, who did score a touchdown on a pass thrown by Hendrickson on a half-back option during the game Saturday.
The coaching staff, in fact, has done a good job getting this team ready as pointed out by Burling. The next step is to prepare for the Aledo-Westmer Green Dragons, a team Illini-West defeated earlier this year.
Head coach Jim Unruh said, "We will wipe the slate clean and prepare for Aledo Westmer as if it were our first meeting with them. They were good the first time we played them and I am sure they will be much better this time."
When asked to what he attributed the team's success this year he said, "How they improved week to week, all year long. They have made strides and gotten better each week."
He also commented on the maturity level of the team and the fact they have the right temperance to be successful, "Football is not like any other sport. You have to improve every week. If you don't, you miss a chance to improve. This team, especially the seniors, set goals for themselves this year and I believe they have stuck to those goals and that is why they have achieved what they have to this point," Unruh continued.
Unruh is not looking to make any predictions on who will emerge from the pack in the 3A tournament, nor does he believe it would be helpful to do so because the playoffs are different, and he has not had the opportunity to see many of the teams due to the distance they are from Carthage.
"It is impossible to predict. We are going to stick with our plan and take it one team at a time. Regardless if we have played them or not, it is impossible to compare," he added.
And if the Illini-West football team takes the field next week with the same confidence, maturity, and sensibility they have tempered into their athletic talent, we can count on yet another win for the Chargers.