STILLMAN VALLEY, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — Things felt more like normal last year for the Stillman Valley Cardinals. They got back into the playoffs after missing out the previous four years. Now the addition of a strong junior class makes the playoffs a realistic target again this year.
Getting back into the playoffs last year took some weight off the Cardinals’ backs.
“I definitely think it took some pressure off us,” said senior receiver-linebacker Noah Hodges. It boosted our confidence for sure. We’ve been there before. We have experience there.”
There’s also a flip side to getting back into the playoffs.
“When you get into the playoffs now there’s a little more expectations this year,” said head coach Mike Lalor. “The way we got back in last year and winning a game, getting into that second round, and now the expectation level starts kicking up a little bit.”
There’s a solid senior core here with guys such as linebacker Logan Jennings, halfbacks Dylan Showers and Caleb Fleming, linemen Lucas Havens and Trae Varney, fullback-linebacker Logan Lagerhausen and receiver-linebacker Noah Hodges. They’ve been joined now by a junior class that could be one of the better classes the Cardinals have had in a while. They went 9-0 last year as sophomores.
“It’s a good, solid group. We were able to keep them together down there (at the sophomore level),” said Lalor.
“They’re a very talented group,” said Hodges of the junior class. “I think us (the seniors) and them have gotten very close over the summer. We spent a lot of time together and I think we can do great things together.”
“It’s a learning curve from sophomores to varsity, but it’s nice to have them up here and get them learning so they’re ready for the season,” said Varney.
One of those juniors is Chad Gerig. He was the starting quarterback for that sophomore team. He’s in a competition for the varsity job this year with senior Grant McClendon.
Another junior who should make a big contribution this year is receiver Joe Kuthe. His burner speed should stretch opposing defenses giving them something to think about besides Stillman’s traditional run game.
“If you can get one wideout that can beat that single coverage and get down the field that really stretches things,” says Lalor. “It forces some real choices on the defensive side. I’m hoping Joe can do that for us this year.”
One key to this season for Stillman Valley will be the ability of the younger guys to mature quickly against a challenging early-season schedule.
“We need to survive early and then hopefully grow up in a hurry,” said Lalor.
The Cardinals will play Dixon, Byron and Winnebago the first three weeks.