2021 Mid-Illini Football Preview


The 2021 IHSA football season is almost here! In a few weeks, teams across the area will take the field in hopes of getting back to a normal high school sports schedule. While the spring season provided a look at many of the area's top teams and players, COVID-19 brought on challenges that made even getting on the field a struggle.


While nobody wanted a COVID-damaged year, many found a silver lining.


Some coaches treated the season much like a college football team would in the spring, hosting practices, scrimmages and exhibition games. This helps teams improve before the real deal starts in the fall and also plays a big role in integrating the new generation of players into the program. For others, it was a farewell as seniors got to suit up one final time for their respective school.


Now, it's time to look ahead to the official 2021 season!


Central Illinois is one big high school football community. There are many teams and conferences to examine ahead of kickoff, so let's start with teams from the Mid-Illini Conference.


WASHINGTON


The always-tough Panthers are set to continue their dominance in 2021. While the Panthers weren’t outright conference champions last season after falling to Metamora in week six, they were one of the area's most dominant teams. It is fair to note they lead the conference in wins with five. Since the pandemic caused cancelations amongst other one-loss teams, they had to settle for a shared title.


But the Panthers are hungry coming into the fall season, especially with a stellar returning group. This team brings back seven players who were named to either the first or second all-conference teams, along with many others who shined on the field last spring.


The experience on this roster will be another driving force behind this team's success. Washington only has a few noticeable losses from last year, one of them being (OL/LB) Timmy Malinowski. It won’t set them back as the returning class should step up and lead the way.


Offense


Top Players -


Brock Skaggs - FB/RB - Senior


Cade Biedscheid - RB - Senior


Brock Pollitt - WR - Senior


Jack Limas - WR/RB - Senior


Noah Berlett - QB - Senior


Isaac Mapson - WR - Senior


Other notable names include Drew Lewis, Panye Smith, Tyler Richardson and Thomas Borges, all of whom are seniors! They help make up a great group of skill players with both the air and ground attacks being big time threats. Versatility is key with this team, and they have plenty of it. The Panthers should operate in a very similar way to last season. As mentioned, with little lost compared to what's returning, the upbeat and high-scoring games should continue. Noah Berlett should step in nicely to replace Nick Willams under center. He will be supported by returning all-conference fullback Brock Skaggs, Cade Biedscheid and receiver Isaac Mapson. There's not much else to say about Washington other than pure dominance. No doubt, they have a top offense in the conference and should display it each and every week.


Defense


Top players -


Brock Skaggs - LB - Senior

Drew Lewis - DB - Senior


Cade Biedscheid - LB - Senior


Brock Pollitt - DB - Senior


Tyler Richardson - DB - Senior


Isaac Mapson - DE/LB - Senior


Tyler Casey - LB - Senior


Out of the seven players above, all but one were members of an all-conference team. Players like Tyler Casey, Tyler Richardson, Isaac Mapson and Drew Lewis were particularly dominant on defense and special teams. Looking at the numbers alone, the Panthers defense only allowed more than 14 points once in six games last year. Additionally, the Panthers limited three opponents to single-digit points, including Morton and Dunlap. Aside from numbers and stats, watching this defense in action further proves how great they are. Look for another great year from the high energy Panther defense. They start the new season against Highland before a home matchup with Kankakee. The Panthers start Mid-Illini play with a home battle against Limestone in week three.


METAMORA


The Redbirds, fresh off a 3-1 year which earned them a shared conference championship, are back and ready for more. One of the most consistent and dominant teams in all of Central Illinois, Metamora continued that with a new coach last year. Jared Grebner now heads into year two looking to make some more noise in the Mid-Illini, but has some challenges to overcome. Along with the always tough conference schedule, the roster has lots of turnover. Despite the loss of some very key seniors, the next class at Metamora should step up to the task and continue to make them a tough team to compete with.


Offense


Top Players -


Garrett Taylor - RB - Senior


Connor Willerton - QB - Senior


Solomon Schwarz - QB/RB - Senior


TJ Reising - TE - Senior


Ben Wallace - OL - Junior


Ethan Petri - FB - Senior


This offense has some very key losses from last year including Andrew Polhemus on the line and Ryne Beogle at Tight End. At the same time, this Metamora offense won’t lack in ability with several returners. Taylor, Willerton and Schwarz make up the best of the returning class. This team has not one, but two capable QBs that are also versatile enough to take up a role elsewhere. Willerton may be in line to take the starting role, but Schwarz is certainly in the mix. On top of that, they should field a top offensive line in the conference led by all-conference linemen Ben Wallace. While we will have to wait and see how the roster unfolds completely, Metamora does have some new players on varsity that could be names to watch. Tyler Kasap and Luke Ufheil could be a pair of juniors to watch while Ryan Kenar could be a breakout senior in an expanded role.


Defense


Top players-


Garrett Taylor - LB - Senior


Ben Wallace - DT - Junior


TJ Reising - LB - Senior


Michael Meinert - DE - Senior


Cam Keith - DE - Senior


Even after losing some key members of the defensive line, this front should continue to be the cornerstone of a tough defense. The defense is highlighted by Garrett Taylor as a big time pass rusher and run stuffer. Along with him are a pair of veteran lineman Cam Keith and Michael Meinert. The big time plays won’t happen much in the secondary for this defense. In large part that is because of a ferocious pass rush and a big wall in front to prevent the run. Not to overlook the middle of the defense, TJ Resing is a key linebacker. As mentioned, I look at a couple players, Tyler Kasap and Luke Ufheil, that could show up in a big way as juniors. They are likely to have at least some sort of defensive presence. Metamora opens Fall 2021 with a big game against Peoria Notre Dame. They then take on LaSalle-Peru before opening up conference play with a favorable matchup at home against East Peoria.


DUNLAP


The Eagles were also a co-champion last year, after just one conference loss. Cancelations caused this team to only play four games but they made the most of it, going 3-1. Dunlap is another top school in the Mid-Illini to have some very significant roster turnover. It will be interesting to see how they can rebound this fall and what players will now take the lead. One thing is clear though, the Eagles will still be one of the top Mid-illini teams this coming season as they try to repeat as conference champions.


What exactly did Dunlap lose from last season? They lost three of the conference's best players - Gabe Callhoun, Braden Dietz and Mitchell Gore. The trifecta were big on both sides of the ball. That's not to mention a couple important offensive linemen such as Will Weaver and other skill position players. But this is a new year, a fresh start for a very different looking Eagles team. Who is set to breakout for the next generation of Dunlap football?


Offense


Top players -


Gideon Curry - OL - Senior


Kejuan Irby - WR - Senior


Ryan Schuck - OL - Senior


Eddie Counsil - OL - Senior


Brock Card - WR - Senior


Brayden Orr - RB - Junior


These and many more players should be in line to shine this year. Kejuan Irby, Gideon Curry, Ryan Schuck and Eddie Counsil should thrive at their respective positions. It will be interesting to see which other players can help fill the big shoes left by Dunlap greats such as Callhoun and Gore. One of those that could do that is Brock Card. His last couple of seasons haven’t necessarily been very notable, but he's been a great depth option up to this point. Now with a shot to potentially start as a senior, Card may be a breakout star. What though, will the Eagles do at QB? Braden Dietz played under center most of the time last season. Now that he's gone, it seems Madyn Burke, a junior, will be taking hold of the QB position. If he can step in and be at least serviceable in that role, it's going to make a big difference in this team's offensive success.


Defense


Top players -


Kejuan Irby - DB - Senior


Brock Card - DB - Senior


Ryan Schuck - LB - Senior


Brayden Orr - LB - Junior


Kyle Erickson - DB - Senior


Graham Glover - DB - Junior


The secondary is full of talent for Dunlap. Kyle Erickson, second team all-conference in spring 2021, is set to head up the defensive backs. Along with him are returners Kejuan Irby and Brock Card. The biggest area the Eagles will need to rebound is on the defensive front. A couple big-time linebackers remain from last year, but some new players and players stepping up into a starting role have their work cut out for them. It's hard to say if the same sort of defensive dominance can be had this upcoming year, but if they can at least carry over some of that momentum from last year, they should be just fine. The Eagles only allowed over 14 points in one game last season and shutout Richwoods. Ready to embark on a new year, this defense and the rest of the Dunlap team will look to keep their presence starting out with games against Galesburg and Rock Island. They start conference play at Pekin in week three.


Morton


The Potters are back, featuring one of the conference's best players. Seth Glatz is back for his senior year looking to run circles around his Mid-Illini opponents. After a decent 3-3 season, the Potters definitely aren’t satisfied with just that. They are looking to be even better and get back into the state playoffs this year.


There are some obvious losses from last year's group. Some of those graduated seniors include Zeke Glatz, Ashton Everding, Connor Lonteen, Brooks Wilkinson and Ben Geiger. But the Potters should be excited about what's returning, especially in the backfield and on the offensive line.


Offense


Top Players -


Seth Glatz - RB - Senior


Ashton Suydam - WR/QB - Senior


Jack Stump - OL - Junior


Broc Schmidt - OL - Senior


Mac Anderson - WR - Senior


Jackson Weber - K/WR - Senior


Right up front, the Potters’ offensive line will prove to be a major asset this year. With Stump and Schmidt leading the way with great depth behind, the line should be rock solid. Right behind that line is star running back Seth Glatz who is ready to build on a massive breakout season. The senior running back ran for over 300 yards in multiple games last season including a seven touchdown game against East Peoria. Glatz is a three sport athlete that should be getting lots of attention this year as he tries to put the cherry on top of an already very successful high school sports career. Other seniors include QB Ashton Suydam and receiver Mac Anderson that should compliment Glatz nicely. Also don’t forget all-conference second team member and kicker, Jackson Weber.


Defense


Top Players -


Seth Glatz - DB - Senior


Mac Anderson - DB - Senior


Ian Mutchler - DE - Junior


Carl Whitaker - LB - Junior


Jack Stump - DE - Junior


This is a young defense, one that is relatively inexperienced at the varsity level. Outside of some of the returning names like Anderson and Glatz, there will be many new additions on this side of the ball. They should be balanced on defense, but younger players could prove to have some growing pains that may set them back. Morton hasn’t been a particularly tough defensive team the last couple seasons, relying mainly on the offense. But it surely should be just fine to get them by as long as the offense is producing at a high level. They will get a look at LaSalle-Peru in week one, before a matchup with Galesburg. Their conference opener is away at Canton in week three.


Canton


The surprise team of the spring season, the Little Giants hope to continue their success from just a few months ago. Even after losing their head coach and several notable players from 2019, this team came together under coach Nick Wright and performed very well in the new season. Ready to continue the success in the Fall, the Little Giants need to rally around their returning stars and incorporate some new players to this team.


A few key losses include Cally Stein, Drew Petty and Lukas Goforth. Petty, a linemen on both sides of the ball, earned first team honors and will certainly be the biggest loss. As Canton becomes more established though, this team gets deeper. They now have many new players to step in and fill the gaps left by those now departed seniors.


Offense


Top players-


Nick Oldfield - QB - Senior


Jake Miller - WR - Senior


Trevor Putman - RB - Senior


LaShawn Wallace - RB - Junior


Turner Plumer - WR - Senior


This offense has loads of skill that should produce plenty this season. Nick Oldfield came on and dominated as a first year QB. Coach Nick Wright likes to utilize the pass game and Oldfield fits that system perfectly. Standing at 6’4”, the senior QB has a cannon for an arm. He also showed flashes of his mobility last year by striking for a few rushing touchdowns. Back to support him are seniors Jake Miller and Turner Plumer on the outside. Right behind him is returning back Trevor Putman and a potential breakout star LaShawn Wallace. While all the boxes are checked for the skill positions, Canton may face their biggest test on the offensive line. To have three starting linemen graduate, including your star Drew Petty, certainly takes a toll on its success. While they shouldn’t have a problem filling those spots, the concern is about how the new starters will perform. If it can hold its ground and allow the offense to work its magic, they will be sitting very nice offensively.


Defense


Top players-


Trevor Putman - LB - Senior


LaShawn Wallace - DB - Junior


Jake Miller - DB - Senior


Cale Barnhart - DB - Junior


Nick Oldfield - DB - Senior


The secondary is loaded with returners including all conference first teamer Jake Miller. The biggest losses from last year come up front as they have a massive turnover for their starters. Trevor Putman remains a key asset to that group, but it will be a matter of filling around him to keep the defense tough. A number of new juniors and sophomores should be stepping in, but at the moment the specifics of who those players are relatively unknown. No matter who is on the field though, this defense should remain tough and gritty. The Little Giants get to start off the year with Mahomet-Seymour and follow that up with a matchup at Marengo. Their conference opener is a home matchup with Morton in week three.


Pekin


The Dragons are coming off a somewhat disappointing year. After returning to the state playoffs in 2019, Pekin only went 2-3 in the spring season. But many factors likely led to the team being below expectations. For one, Covid forced them to miss a game. Additionally the Dragons ran into some brutal opponents including Washington and Metamora. While it wasn’t an awful season, this team certainly could have accomplished more. All eyes are on them for the upcoming season as they try and get back on course.


Doug Nutter is once again leading the Dragons as head coach. Since landing the role in 2009, Nutter has led Pekin to six state playoff berths. Since 2011, all of his teams have won at least four games, with the exception of last season’s Covid impacted schedule. . He will get the services of some big time returners but will need to fill the holes of some key senior departures. In all, the Dragons should have a look at getting back into the playoffs, but need to overcome some obstacles to make that happen.


Offense


Top players -


Kanye Tyler - RB - Junior


Caleb Cope - FB - Senior


Myles Bridgmon - OL - Senior


Xavier Wisely - RB - Senior


Chance McCloud - WR - Senior


One problem Pekin won’t have is depth. Being a team that is large enough to be in class 7A, depth is always an asset for the Dragons. But this team did lose some key players. Wyatt VanNess has graduated, leaving the QB position to be filled. Additionally a couple of impact players, Drake Hawkins and Logan Buck, have also graduated. But they get back plenty of impactful playmakers, especially on the ground game. This team is made up of six returning all-conference players from a year ago including members of the backfield Xavier Wisley, Kanye Tyler and Caleb Cope. Pekin should field a good offensive line highlighted by big center Myles Bridgmon. The Dragons will have plenty of succes on the ground, but any support from the passing attack will make them a multi-dimensional offense.


Defense


Top players-


Mason Vicary - LB - Senior


Phoenix Lane - DB - Senior


Caleb Cope - LB - Senior


Chance McCloud - LB - Senior


Kanye Tyler - DB - Junior


Xavier Wisely - LB/DB - Senior


Once again, depth will play a big role in this team's success. Along with some of Pekin’s stars that play both sides of the ball, some others stepped up last year primarily on defense. Some of those include Phoenix Lane and Mason Vicary. The defense was spotty at times, though. While they did make many big plays, they struggled in a few contests. One area they had a problem was defending the pass. Fortunately they didn’t lose much in the secondary so it does allow for that group to grow and get batter. With a good amount of returning talent overall though, they should be able to improve off the spring year. The Dragons matchup with Rock Island and Belleville East to start off the year before hosting Dunlap in their week three conference opener.


Limestone


Limestone is one of a couple long struggling programs in the Mid-Illini. The Rockets have only made the state playoffs twice since 2005, last coming in 2015. While the playoff drought isn’t the conference's longest, it is concerning. The Rockets simply haven’t been able to put together consistent success and are currently in a big rut. But Coach Darin Driscoll has led tough, competitive teams since his hiring in 2012. There's generally good talent that runs through Limestone but depth has become an issue, especially in recent years.


With the right talent, good coaching and maybe a little luck, the Rockets could be on the rise sooner than later. That may be the case this year as they have some notable returners from last year's squad.


Offense


Top players -


Frank Driscoll - RB - Senior


Payton Dearing - QB - Senior


Sam Morse - WR - Senior


Merrick McNeese - TE - Senior


Ty Fate - OL - Senior


Noah Nunez - QB/RB - Senior


While depth could present itself as an issue, especially on the offensive line, this team certainly has some big name starters at the skill positions . Driscoll should be a reliable asset carrying the ball. Much though is hinging on success on the passing attack to take the load off Driscoll. Now that Travis Lutz has graduated, the Rockets will need to field a new starter. While it's clear they have options, it's not clear who will get the starting nod. Both top options, Dearing and Nunez, are versatile enough to play an additional position and may get a look at multiple positions including QB.


Defense


Top players -


Frank Driscoll - LB - Senior


Payton Dearing - DB - Senior


Sam Morse - DB - Senior


Merrick McNeese - LB - Senior


Isaac Anderson - DE - Senior


Majority of the offensive starters will likely play both sides of the ball for Limestone. Make no mistake though, Driscoll, Morse and McNeese are all defensive forces. This should be a balanced defense. They may not be amazing in one specific area but they certainly will be competitive in all. Several juniors will fill out the roster, but at the moment, it's unclear who that will be. While Limestone likely won’t be a dominant force in a tough Mid-Illini, they still can be competitive and could be a surprising team if everything falls in place. Limestone starts the year with games against Mount Zion and Woodstock. They start their Mid-Illini schedule with a visit to Washington in week three.


EAST PEORIA


No secret, the Raiders have been bad for a number of years. As I examined in my partial feature on EP last year, this team has many mountains to overcome. Yet, there's always hope for a struggling team especially when a change is made. The most recent change for this group comes in the way of coaching. They once again changed hands at the helm of the program, this time to in-house coach Dustin Jefferson. He wasn’t the only new coach last season. Several new coaches joined in hopes to bring life back to a dormant program. Key changes were made at both offensive and defensive coordinators along with a handful of assistants. But what else can be done to reshape Raider football?


This team's biggest problem starts with the numbers. I'm not talking about analytics or data that measures specific areas of this team's game, rather how many players are on this team at all! With by far the smallest team in the Mid-Illini and possibly the entire area for large school football, it was inevitable the Raiders would continue to struggle. So priority is getting kids to come and play. Coach Jefferson thinks with the right amount of players, the wins slowly but surely would start coming. This off-season it appears that the Raiders have made some headway on the issue of team numbers. While they still won't have the kind of deep program many of their Mid-Illini counterparts have, they certainly have improved in that area. But who's at the top of this team, leading the way from the rest of Raiders newcomers?


Offense


Top players-


Damien Brown - QB - Senior


Kenyon Carlton - RB - Senior


Gabe Zeigler-Harris - RB/WR - Junior


Zyion Jones - WR - Senior


Cole Hagedorn - TE/OL - Senior


The Raiders do have a few key assets in both the run and pass games with players like Kenyon Carlton, Gabe Z-H, and Zyion Jones. These starters have plenty of upside to pair along with second year QB Damien Brown who proved to be a versatile, high energy part to this team. One of the biggest questions comes from the offensive line. It's not clear who will be getting the starting nod on the line. If they can really start utilizing a slightly improved depth, especially upfront it's going to give life to an offense that's appeared dormant for several seasons.


Defense


Top Players-


Cole Hagedorn - LB/DE - Senior


Gabe Zeigler-Harris - DB - Junior


Damien Brown - DB - Senior


Brodie Windell - LB/DE - Junior


Kenyon Carlton - LB/DB - Senior


Many of the top players will have to pull double duty once again this year. While there might be some improvements to the defensive front, the defensive backs will remain quite thin after losing two key starters. But even with that area lacking at the moment, there are several other players worth noting on this defense. Cole Hagedorn is this team's defensive anchor. Coming off his junior year in which he landed second all-conference honors, he surely looks to build on that for the upcoming year. Others include returning 3rd year defensive starter Gabe Z-H and returners Damien Brown and Brodie Windell. This should be a considerably more competitive team than they were just a few months ago. The Raiders do have a long road ahead but have made big strides just ahead of the upcoming year. The Raiders get a look at two considerably easier opponents in Streator and East Moline United before opening conference play against Metamora in week three.



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