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Running with Fire: A look inside Pekin, Tyler's hot start

Updated: Feb 17

Pekin running back Kanye Tyler shrugs after scoring a touchdown in the Dragon's week two win over Belleville East. Photo by Josh Schwam.

The Pekin Dragons and star running back Kanye Tyler have taken Central Illinois football by storm early this season. At 3-0 overall and 1-0 in the Mid-Illini Conference, Pekin has quickly become the team everyone is talking about. Now 9th in the class 7A poll after week three, they show no signs of slowing down.

But the Dragons have some big games ahead, including tonight’s 101.1 ESPN Peoria Friday Night Showcase at Morton. Will the Dragons be able to keep up a season that has the potential to be a special campaign?

Pekin Football Advancing Forward

The 1,800-student 7A school has always been a solid contender on the gridiron. With six state playoff appearances under 14th-year head coach Doug Nutter, Pekin is no stranger to success. But when the postseason rolls around, they have not had that same success – largely because of their tough playoff matchups. That may not be the case this year, as with a stellar, well-coached group, the Dragons will certainly be looking to advance forward.

Coming off a spring 2021 season in which they fell short of a winning record at 2-3, Pekin was looking to change that in the fall. That’s been a driving force for Tyler and his teammates.

“We definitely had some aggression built up from last year. Last season didn’t go our way and I felt like we had something to prove this year,” Tyler said.

Pekin has already surpassed its win total from the shortened spring season and is hungry for more. But while it’s reasonable to assume the Dragons can earn a playoff berth over the next six weeks, Tyler and company are taking things one week at a time.

“It's a game-by game-thing,” Tyler said. “You never know, me or our quarterback or anyone could be out the next game. We’re focusing on staying healthy and winning our next game and then practicing hard every single day.”

Through three games, Pekin has scored 90 points and only allowed 16. The offense has been lights out, especially in a 42-9 win over Belleville East.

Led by Tyler, Pekin has plenty of playmakers that have helped them to early success. The junior has already amassed 669 yards and seven touchdowns so far, among the best in the area.

But Tyler doesn’t want all the focus to go to him.

“I feel like everyone that has played out on the field with me has been amazing,” Tyler said. To list a few, Tanner Sprecher is my right hand [man]. We talk a lot, especially at practice…. Scotty [Jordan] is definitely someone to watch out for. You definitely need to get some eyes on him. I've been playing with him since JFL years. He's got a lot of heart for the game and he's really good at what he does.”

And don’t forget about the Dragons’ imposing offensive line.

“Myles Bridgmon, a senior, is my center this year,” Tyler said. “He's definitely not getting enough looks … I feel he's very overlooked. Alijah Hart … is a special talent. He's been a basketball player all his life but he started football in high school, he's definitely got a love for the game. Sometimes I see some of myself in him when he plays and that definitely makes me proud, but he's a player to watch out for. You also gotta look at the line. I love all my boys on the line. Also look out for our linebackers.”

The Dragons’ other top performers include Caleb Cope, Bo Benassi and Mason Vicary. From top to bottom, this is a team that can contribute.

With Morton, Washington and Metamora still on the schedule – in nearly consecutive weeks – many tests remain. But a strong team like Pekin has the means to take on that challenge and succeed.

Tyler rises to the occasion

Tyler broke onto the scene as one of Central Illinois’ top players this Fall. He's certainly gained lots of attention in the last few weeks. But outside of just his dominant play, what more is there to add about the standout tailback?

While Tyler now lights up the scoreboard at Pekin’s Memorial Stadium, his roots are in Pekin’s strong youth football program. He grew up playing in Pekin’s Junior Football League under the watch of his father, Logan, a former semi-professional player in his own right.

With a long family history of football, it's easy to see why Tyler is a natural at the sport. But Kanye went on to mention how he’s still involved with JFL and the future of Pekin football.

“I’m coaching JFL right now, the senior team that will be coming to high school next year,” Tyler said. “I want to make sure they're ready for high school next year. JFL is a great experience especially for me, it really got me to love the game of football. I'm grateful for the coaches that coached me.”

But outside of a long football background for Kanye, he also has a history of playing other sports as well. He's put his versatile athletic skills on display in the spring primarily becoming a star of yet another sport.

“I played baseball for a while, but I stopped that to focus more on football. But I am doing track. I'm doing track this year and I did it last year. I love doing track, I think we have a really good group coming this year. I'm just trying to get better and improve my times this year, so yeah track is definitely one.”

The football star also turned heads in track last spring and looks to continue that this coming season. He keeps a similar focus on the ongoing football season.

“We have to make sure we’re not getting a big head about our success,” Tyler said. I don’t want to come into a game thinking we’re the best in the area, ranked number nine. I don’t care about any of that to be honest. Anything can beat us, if we beat ourselves. So I'm not really worried about 3-0, 1-0. We need to go into each game with something to prove.”

Focus is important and not always easy to do. But Kanye’s focus is straight forward, not looking to worry about anyone besides himself and his team.

Looking ahead, Kanye is certainly looking to play football at the next level. He already has some interest from a big school not too far from home.

“I've recently talked with an Illinois coach and I am going to visit one of their games. I plan on going down there and watching the game and talking with some coaches.. I'm really excited for this, getting to build some relationships with coaches, it's all really exciting.”

With lots to be excited about now and in the future, Tyler has lots to look forward to. He might be able to join a Peoria-area pipeline of players to go to Illinois. He’d join recent local talent from nearby Peoria High, Coran Taylor and Kendrick Green. But with the rest of this year and next, Kanye has plenty of time to decide about his future with football.

As previously mentioned, Tyler and Pekin take on Morton in week four. They follow that up in weeks six and seven with heavyweight bouts with Washington and Metamora. You can catch more Dragons action this year during select weeks courtesy of Clutch Sports Media and 101.1 ESPN Peoria.

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