LANARK, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — It’s not easy making headway in the tough Northwest Upstate Illini Conference in football with teams like Lena-Winslow, Forreston and Du-Pec at the top. But Eastland-Pearl City just might be ready to makes some big strides this season.

The Wildcatz are coming off four straight losing seasons. Last season they were 3-6, but that hasn’t damped the expectations here or the enthusiasm.

“I think we have close to 55-56 kids which is a lot more than we’ve had in the past,” said head coach Jared McNutt. “And with only six seniors, I mean, we’ve got more numbers coming in the future too.”

It is a young EPC team, but you can see there’s talent here. McNutt certainly sees it.

“I think we are among one of the most talented teams as far as our skill position goes in the conference. I think we’re going to try to use those guys in different ways to be more dynamic on offense.”

Senior Brady Sweitzer is back at running back. He will be counted on heavily. Junior Jaxson Kempel is another key back, and there are high expectations for sophomore’s Will Birchen and Draven Zier. McNutt says Zier has the speed to be a playmaker.

“He can get the ball on the edge, and then he can be quick enough in between the tackles to avoid that one tackle and then slip it for a big one. He was probably one of the more talented, fresh-soph players in the conference last year, if not the most talented.”

The quarterback spot is currently a competition between juniors Jackson Corbin and Brady Boyer. Up front the Wildcatz won’t have a senior on the line, but all the guys there do have varsity experience from last year, and there’s another key sophomore up there 300 pound Brody Voegly to anchor that.

“He’s taken a big step this year,” said McNutt. “He got a lot stronger.”

“We’ve got a lot of energy,” said returning receiver/defensive back Ethan Petta. “We all move around fast. We got a lot of fast guys. I feel like we have a lot of skilled players.”

The defense will be led by Birchen at linebacker. He was EPC’s leading tackler last year as a freshman.

“I think we’re going to be really good and exciting to watch the next couple of years for sure,” said Birchin. “All the young players, we all want it really bad.”