Before COVID-19 changed everything, the Du Quoin Indians football team was riding high.
They were eagerly anticipating the 2020-21 season after making the playoffs in 2019 and ending with a 9-2 record. But when the much-delayed 2020 season finally was played this past spring, the Indians' momentum was gone and the result was a disappointing 1-4 record.
But when the 2021 season opened training camp three weeks ago, there was a renewed enthusiasm -- almost like last spring didn't happen -- buoyed by the return of seven returning starters on offense and five back on the defense.
The season opens Friday on the road at Chester.
"Our kids have practiced hard," said Coach Derek Beard, saying they had nearly 90 kids come to tryouts.
"Hopefully we can rebound from the spring season and compete for a conference championship. That's our first goal.
Beard said the conference schedule is tough. With Sparta leaving the River-to-River Conference, Du Quoin picked up a good nonconference opponent in Breese Mater Dei.
"So add Breese to our nonconference schedule and we've got a challenging game every week," Beard said.
Leading the offensive attack is senior quarterback David Lee. In the spring Lee passed for 445 yards with four touchdowns. Lee also rushed for 136 yards and scored two touchdowns.
"Lee's got a little experience now," Beard said. "He's making good decisions for us in practice. David has matured a lot the last couple years and has turned into a good leader."
Lee should be familiar with offense this year with three running backs and his top two receivers returning. Joining him in the backfield are senior Nick Brown and juniors Jakob Eaton and Jonathan Hamilton.
"Nick is very athletic and explosive and a guy we're counting on to get us some good production," Beard said. "He's a strong kid who works hard in the weight room.
"Jakob had to step in as a sophomore when we had a bunch of injuries and played well. He's got decent speed. He's a pole vaulter and a sprinter for us in track. He worked hard this summer and deserves a shot to carry the ball some.
"Jonathan broke his hand in the first JV game. He got some speed and we're looking forward to having him back."
Senior Caden Hutchens was the leading receiver in the spring with 11 catches for 223 yards and three touchdowns. Junior Gage Green finished with three catches for 25 yards.
"Caden was our leading receiver last year, who didn't play football as a sophomore," Beard said. "He runs good routes.
"Gage stepped in as a sophomore and had a solid season. He's got great hands."
The offensive line has three senior starters back -- Waylon, Willie and Maurice. Willie Moore is back at right guard with Waylon Mydler and Maurice Washington at tackle.
"Maurice has worked hard this summer and we're looking forward to seeing what he can do his senior year," Beard said.
The country and western legends and Maurice are also back on the defensive line with Washington and Mydler at the ends and Moore at defensive tackle.
"Maurice didn't play much on defense until the later in the year, but this year we're looking forward to him playing both ways," Beard said. "Willie and Waylon play hard and are a load."
The rest of the defense will be inexperienced with only senior middle linebacker Aaron Dorsey and senior cornerback Hunter Douglas returning.
"Hunter is always in the weight room, out on the field catching balls and working on his game," Beard said. "Aaron got hurt in our last game in the spring, but he's rebounded from that injury.
"We were real inexperienced at linebacker and defensive back last year, so we've got some good competition in camp."
8/27 at Chester 7 p.m.
9/3 at Harrisburg 7 p.m.
9/10 HERRIN 7 p.m.
9/17 at Carterville 7 p.m.*
9/24 PINCKNEYVILLE 7 p.m.*+
10/1 at Breese Mater Dei 7 p.m.
10/8 at Anna-Jonesboro 7 p.m.*
10/15 NASHVILLE 7 p.m.*
10/22 MURPHYSBORO 7 p.m.++
* conference game
++ Senior Night