STILLMAN VALLEY, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — Stillman Valley’s football team is coming off an impressive season last year that saw the Cardinals defeat Byron and tie for the Big Northern Conference championship. The Cardinals are anxious to see what they can achieve this season.

Mike Lalor is entering his 26th season as the Cardinals head coach. That continuity means we know what to expect from his teams. Physical play, an emphasis on the run game. A keep-the-chains moving attack, and more than likely a playoff berth. This is what Lalor expects from his players whether it’s 1999 or 2023.

“They need to care. I think as much as anything in today’s world that you want to care about what you’re doing in that it’s more than just about yourself, and that you’re representing your town and your community, and then we demand that we try to play with great physicality.”

The last couple years the Cardinals had the poster boy for physicality in big fullback Jory Spain. He scored 20 touchdowns, and he was first team All-Big Northern Conference. So, who gets plugged in a fullback now?

“We’ve got a couple guys that will come along,” said Lalor. “Braden Rodgers is one. Johnny DeKlerk. We’ve got Brock Needs. There’s four of them there that are similar. Some are a little bit bigger. Some are a little bit quicker.”

The Cardinals also graduated their speed back Porter Needs. Keaton Rauman will bring some of that speed element to the backfield this year. Isaiah Herebia will also get reps at running back.

The Cardinals are set at quarterback. Senior Braden Engel split time at that position last year and showed he’s a smooth operator.

“Having that experience, having played in those situations last year I think it helps me prepare, it helps me kind of calm the nerves a lot,” said Engel. “It also helps me keep obviously as a quarterback you have to be mentally there. You have to understand, read defenses, and stuff like that.

“Braden is a very smooth runner, just very, very fluid and can change his speeds very well,” said Lalor. “He reads it pretty well, and he’s got a nice arm.”

The offensive line lost two first-team all-conference players, but senior Malichi Bagg who was honorable mention all-conference is back. He’s comfortable with the people the Cardinals will plug in up front.

“We look very good, and I think we have the talent to replace them. It’s going to be hard missing them, but I do think we have the talent to replace them.”

“We feel like there’s people there,” said Lalor. “Now how well they perform (who knows)? When you have that kind of horsepower up front, the rest of it kind of takes care of itself, so that’ll be a big part of this progression as to how far we get here this year.”

On defense Blake Watson and Jacob Rhodes will be a couple keys on the line. Rodgers and Herebia will be keys at linebacker. KJ Chavers, Noah Latham, Rauman and Engel will be the back line of defense in the secondary along with Kaenan McDevitt.