COACH: Tyler Hanner (2nd year, 3-6 record)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 3-6
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Seth Higgins, Sr., QB;
OUTLOOK: Charleston's coming off a better season with three wins, but the Trojans still need to take another step against the remaining Apollo teams.
Aug. 25 - at Canton
Sept. 1 - Mahomet-Seymour
Sept. 8 - Taylorville
Sept. 15 - vs. Mattoon (at EIU)
Sept. 22 - at Mount Zion
Sept. 29 - at Lincoln
Oct. 6 - Effingham
Oct. 13 - at Quincy Notre Dame
Oct. 20 - Highland
Effingham Flaming Hearts
COACH: Brett Hefner (3rd year, 7-11 record)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 3-6
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Terrence Hill, Sr., RB; Drew Niebrugge, Sr., OL/DL; Frank Schniederjon, Sr., DL; Noah Spencer, Sr., DL/OL; Landon Wolfe, Jr., QB
OUTLOOK: Hill was a horse last year, carrying the ball 289 times in just nine games. He'll miss the blocking of Ashton Blunt, but the Hearts have some experience returning on both sides of the line. Under center, Landon Wolfe has the athleticism to move, and the size to scan the field.
The schedule is a little more favorable this season with the likes of Lincoln and Macomb, and it helps that Salem is still on their schedule as well.
Aug. 25 - at Breese Mater Dei
Sept. 1 - at Taylorville
Sept. 8 - at Mount Zion
Sept. 15 - Lincoln
Sept. 22 - Macomb
Sept. 29 - Mahomet-Seymour
Oct. 6 - at Charleston
Oct. 13 - Mattoon
Oct. 20 - Salem
COACH: Matt Silkowski (2nd year, 1-8 record)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 1-8
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Titus Cannon, Sr., RB/DB
OUTLOOK: Now it's time to see if Lincoln can make a similar jump to what Taylorville did when leaving the Central State Eight. That's a little unrealistic, but those in the community have been bullish about the upcoming classes.
Sure, no longer are Rochester and SHG on the schedule, but it goes beyond that. Not only will the Apollo be an easier place to play competitively, the Railers' three non-conference games are much more favorable. Those three opponents (Macomb, Urbana and Freeburg) combined to win six games.
Aug. 25 - at Macomb
Sept. 1 - Mount Zion
Sept. 8 - Mattoon
Sept. 15 - at Effingham
Sept. 22 -at Taylorville
Sept. 29 - Charleston
Oct. 6 - Urbana
Oct. 13 - at Mahomet-Seymour
Oct. 20 - Freeburg
COACH: Troy Johnson (9th year, 33-43 record)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 5-4
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jack Pilson, Jr., QB; Julian Gittens, Sr., RB; Garrette Branson, Sr., FB; AJ Rappe, Jr., DL; Payton Smith, Jr., OL
OUTLOOK: Offense will likely be ahead of the defense. There are several openings on the defense thanks to last year's class, and Johnson likes what he sees out of his offensive line so far. There's a familiar name stepping into the quarterback spot with the junior Pilson out in front. He'll have some experienced linemen to help give him some time, and a running back in Gittens who showed talent in the backfield.
The Wave are looking to get back into the playoffs after missing out despite 5 wins. It broke four straight years of playoff berths.
Aug. 25 - at Troy Triad
Sept. 1 - Mascoutah
Sept. 8 - at Lincoln
Sept. 15 - vs. Charleston (EIU)
Sept. 22 - at Mahomet-Seymour
Sept. 29 - Mount Zion
Oct. 6 - Taylorville
Oct. 13 - at Effingham
Oct. 20 - at Marion
Mount Zion Braves
COACH: Patrick Etherton (2nd year, 9-2 record)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 9-2, lost to Rochester in 4A 2nd round
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Dawson Johns, Sr., WR; Corbyn Bender, Sr., OL; Kolby Clark, Sr., WR/DB; Noah Ruenger, Jr., QB
OUTLOOK: The sizeable and experienced senior class is gone, paving the way for a much different look this year.
Etherton and his staff spun gold out of the Mount Zion defense, churning six shutouts from a senior-led group that had given up plenty of touchdowns the year before.
Ruenger leads the revamped offense that returns Johns at receiver, but not much else at the skill positions. But the line has some experience and should ease the junior into the role at quarterback.
It shouldn't hurt to have some continuity either, as Etherton and his staff have had a full offseason to work with this team that has a better understanding of the staff.
Aug. 25 - at Bartonville Limestone
Sept. 1 - at Lincoln
Sept. 8 - Effingham
Sept. 15 - at Macomb
Sept. 22 - Charleston
Sept. 29 - at Mattoon
Oct. 6 - at Mahomet-Seymour
Oct. 13 - Taylorville
Oct. 20 - Troy Triad
COACH: Jeb Odam (9th year, 46-35 record)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 8-3
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Joe Fallin, Sr., OL; Justin Wright, Jr., RB; Kyle Woods, Sr., LB; Jordan Moats, Sr., DB; Brandon Odam, Jr., QB; Evan Champley, Sr., RB/LB
OUTLOOK: Since Taylorville's joined the Apollo, it's had nothing but success, reaching at least the quarterfinals every year.
Odam was efficient from the pocket last year, and he has a reliable receiver back in Wright. With a little more familiarity, expect Odam's attempts to jump from last year's marks. Add in some returning linemen, and the Tornadoes' offense should give the relatively new defense some time to get adjusted.
Aug. 25 - Mount Vernon
Sept. 1 - Effingham
Sept. 8 - at Charleston
Sept. 15 - Mahomet-Seymour
Sept. 22 - Lincoln
Sept. 29 - Alton Marquette
Oct. 6 - at Mattoon
Oct. 13 - at Mount Zion
Oct. 20 - at Bethalto Civic Memorial
Central A&M Raiders
COACH: Brent Weakly (3rd year, 7-11 record)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 4-5
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jameson Smith, Sr., QB; Riley Black, Sr., RB/LB; Tate Paradee, Sr., RB/DB; Ried Morrell, Sr., OL/DL; Jacob Baczkowski, Sr., OL/DL; Ty Etherton, Sr., OL/DL
OUTLOOK: Weakly bumped up the win total again last year, coming up just short of the playoffs. The Raiders went out with a bang though, beating Warrensburg 54-41 in Week 9.
Smith comes back as a third-year starting quarterback but he'll have to find new connections at receiver. Still, he'll have Black, who can do a little bit of everything.
And even though they have quite a bit back, winning the two non-conference games will go a long way toward returning to the playoffs. The top tier of the CIC is still dangerous.
Aug. 25 - at Arcola
Sept. 1 - Argenta-Oreana
Sept. 8 - Meridian
Sept. 15 - at Clinton
Sept. 22 - at Tuscola
Sept. 29 - St. Teresa
Oct. 6 - Sullivan-Okaw Valley
Oct. 13 - at Shelbyville
Oct. 20 - Warrensburg-Latham
COACH: Nick Blackburn (1st year)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 4-5
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Kyle Hammer, Sr., OL/DL; Christian Reynolds, Jr., QB/LB; Micah Downs, So., OL/LB; Luke Shobe, Sr., RB/LB; Bryson Carson, Sr., RB/LB
OUTLOOK: Blackburn's new, but he does know the conference after coming from St. Teresa. Clinton returns quite a few linemen, which should help ball-control early on with a new quarterback and offensive skill players.
The Maroons were just short of a second straight playoff berth last year. Winning the two non-conference games this season would go a long way to getting back into the postseason.
Aug. 25 - at Villa Grove
Sept. 1 - Braidwood Reed-Custer, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 8 - at Tuscola
Sept. 15 - Central A&M
Sept. 22 - at St. Teresa
Sept. 29 - Sullivan-Okaw Valley
Oct. 6 - Shelbyville
Oct. 13 - at Warrensburg-Latham
Oct. 20 - Meridian
COACH: Micah Sheppard (1st year)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 0-9
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Gage Hollgarth, Sr., RB; Cameron Getz, Sr., QB/DB; Connor Hurelbrink, Sr., WR; Andrew Cromwell, Sr., LB
OUTLOOK: It's been tough the last two seasons as Meridian has been battered around without picking up a win.
But there's a new regime in town and a big senior class that has weathered a tough varsity career. Hollgarth's been starting at running back since he was a freshman, and now he's carrying three years of experience into this season. Getz has a few reps at quarterback and the athleticism to play several different spots on the field.
It'll help if it can replace some size on the line, but Meridian does have a weathered senior group to take on the 20-game losing streak.
Aug. 25 - at Argenta-Oreana
Sept. 1 - LSA
Sept. 8 - at Central A&M
Sept. 15 - St. Teresa
Sept. 22 - at Sullivan-Okaw Valley
Sept. 29 - Shelbyville
Oct. 6 - at Warrensburg-Latham
Oct. 13 - Tuscola
Oct. 20 - at Clinton
St. Teresa Bulldogs
COACH: Mark Ramsey (2nd year; 268-107 career record)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 12-2, lost to Forreston 35-7 in 1A state championship
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jacardia Wright, Jr., RB/S; Beau Branyan, Sr., OL/DL; Simeon Smith, Sr., DL; Stanley Rodgers, Jr., S; Jayden Smith, Sr., OL/DL
OUTLOOK: There are some significant losses the Bulldogs will have to figure out how to replace, but when you have Wright in the backfield that can be a manageable problem. If Wright puts up similar yardage to last year, he'll break the H&R career rushing record set 20 years ago by Jason Yelton (Casey-Westfield).
The Bulldogs' defense has numerous starters back and at every level, including Rodgers, Bryles and Smith. The main issue will likely be replacing a three-year starter at QB and some experienced receivers. Look for sophomore Jack Hogan to line up under center.
Aug. 25 - at Tri-Valley
Sept. 1 - Nokomis
Sept. 8 - Warrensburg-Latham
Sept. 15 - at Meridian
Sept. 22 - Clinton
Sept. 29 - at Central A&M
Oct. 6 - Tuscola
Oct. 13 - at Sullivan-Okaw Valley
Oct. 20 - Shelbyville
COACH: Bill Duckett (2nd year, 9-4 record)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 9-4, lost to Maroa-Forsyth 48-8 in 2A semifinals
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Turner Pullen, Sr., QB/DB; Kentrell Beck, So., WR/DB; Cree McConnell, Sr., OL/DL; Clayton Peterson, Sr., DL; Cade Watson, Sr., WR/DB
OUTLOOK: This could be a special season for the Rams, and expectations are high after advancing to the 2A semifinals last year.
Pullen showed how much a year of experience can help, passing and rushing for a combined 3,343 yards and 42 touchdowns. And he has a wealth of returners around him on offense, including his top 6 receivers -- Beck, Watson, Spears, Quinn Martz, Mason Cameron and Tylr Gottfreidt.
Oh, and four linemen return as well.
Much of the defense returns, including Peterson, the man in the middle. If Shelbyville can take another leap, it might be on the defensive side and keeping other area top offenses out of the end zone.
Aug. 25 - at Pawnee
Sept. 1 - Cerro Gordo-Bement
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Sept. 8 - at Sullivan-Okaw Valley
Sept. 15 - Tuscola
Sept. 22 - Warrensburg-Latham
Sept. 29 - at Meridian
Oct. 6 - at Clinton
Oct. 13 - Central A&M
Oct. 20 - at St. Teresa
Sullivan-Okaw Valley Redskins
COACH: Andy Kerley (1st year at Sullivan; 47-33 career record)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 3-6
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Luke Harlin, So., QB/DB
OUTLOOK: It's a young group for Kerley coming in for his first year at SOV. He will have a young team to work with, with two-thirds of his roster being made up of freshmen and sophomores.
Aug. 25 - at South Fork
Sept. 1 - Cumberland
Sept. 8 - Shelbyville
Sept. 15 - at Warrensburg-Latham
Sept. 22 - Meridian
Sept. 29 - at Clinton
Oct. 6 - at Central A&M
Oct. 13 - St. Teresa
Oct. 20 - at Tuscola
COACH: Andy Romine (3rd year, 21-2 record)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 11-1, lost to Hardin Calhoun 28-27 in 1A quarterfinals
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Hunter Woodard, Sr., OL/DL; Dalton Hoel, Sr., WR/DB; Kevin Miller, Sr., DL; Cale Sementi, Sr., LB; Andrew Erickson, Sr., LB
OUTLOOK: Kaleb Williams put up nearly 3,000 yards from scrimmage last year, and that production won't be easy to replace. But with a offensive line anchored by Woodard, Tuscola should break open big holes no matter who's behind them. Luke Sluder steps in at quarterback and has a receiver with perhaps the best hands in Dalton Hoel.
The defensive side has returning starters like Miller and Sementi to help rebuild a defense that turned plenty of turnovers and scored often.
Tuscola's been the best in the Central Illinois Conference since the start, and they have the tools to run the table again.
Aug. 25 - at Clifton Central
Sept. 1 - Villa Grove
Sept. 8 - Clinton
Sept. 15 - at Shelbyville
Sept. 22 - Central A&M
Sept. 29 - Warrensburg-Latham
Oct. 6 - at St. Teresa
Oct. 13 - at Meridian
Oct. 20 - Sullivan-Okaw Valley
COACH: Scott Godfrey (5th year, 16-23 record)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 7-5, lost to St. Teresa 34-13 in 1A quarterfinals
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Dionte Lewis, Sr., QB; Diondre Lewis, Sr., RB; AJ Speasl, Jr., LB
OUTLOOK: The Lewis twins give the Cardinals a speed factor that almost no team, especially in 1A, can match.
The biggest question mark will be on the defensive side, and if Warrensburg can hold opponents out of the end zone. Speasl is now in his third year starting, and an uptick in numbers should help give the starters some rest. Returning nine starters on both sides of the ball should help as well. For starters, Godfrey's looking for the run defense to improve and it will help having a majority of upperclassmen in those roles this year.
Warrensburg seems poised for a return to the playoffs, now it's just a question of how and where they can improve to venture to DeKalb.
Aug. 25 - at Cerro Gordo-Bement
Sept. 1 - South Fork
Sept. 8 - at St. Teresa
Sept. 15 - Sullivan-Okaw Valley
Sept. 22 - at Shelbyville
Sept. 29 - at Tuscola
Oct. 6 - Meridian
Oct. 13 - Clinton
Oct. 20 - at Central A&M
COACH: Drew Wagers (5th year, 17-23 record)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 7-4, lost to Peoria 96-40 in 5A second round
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Shalin Bond, Sr., WR/DB; Jakob Davis, Sr., LB; Matt Skeffington, Sr., QB; Joseph McKinley, Sr., WR/DB; Jordan Dennis,
OUTLOOK: No, there aren't many familiar faces back in the black and white, but there's certainly a different atmosphere in place. Expectations are still high, and the blueprint's in the locker room from last year.
Skeffington showed how steely his nerves were jumping into the Glenwood game last year, and receivers like Bond and McKinley have the speed to find openings.
Aug. 26 - MacArthur, 6 p.m.
Sept. 1 - at Normal U-High
Sept. 8 - Jacksonville
Sept. 15 - Lanphier
Sept. 22 - at Southeast
Sept. 29 - Glenwood
Oct. 7 - at Springfield, 2 p.m.
Oct. 13 - Rochester
Oct. 20 - at SHG
COACH: Derek Spates (10th year, 38-50 record)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 1-8
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Armon Brummett, Sr., WR; Amir Brummett, Sr., QB; Izaiha Johnson, Sr., RB; Ray Neal, Jr., WR
OUTLOOK: There will be few duos as electric as the Brummetts. Except they will have to deal with the difficult CS8 and start out against rival Eisenhower, followed by powerhouse Sacred Heart-Griffin. In order to make the playoffs, the Brummetts will need support. That may not be an issue with Johnson in the backfield and Neal as an additional wideout threat for the QB Amir Brummett.
Aug. 26 - at Eisenhower, 6 p.m.
Sept. 1 - SHG
Sept. 9 - at Springfield
Sept. 15 - at Jacksonville
Sept. 22 - Normal U-High
Sept. 29 - at Rochester
Oct. 6 - Southeast
Oct. 13 - at Glenwood
Oct. 20 - Lanphier
COACH: Cully Welter (24th year, 9th at Monticello, 222-64 record)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 12-1, lost to Elmhurst IC 48-6 in 3A semifinals
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Nathan Harman, Sr., LB/OL; Johnny Dawson, Sr., WR/DB; Lucas Lieb, Sr., RB; Benton Freeseman, Sr., OL/DL; Riley Austin, Jr., OL/DL
OUTLOOK: The names that connected for the touchdowns time and time again are gone, but nearly everyone around the lethal passing attack is back. Lieb is returning after rushing for 997 yards and has 4 linemen with starting experience back to guide him upfield.
The defense has a great deal of experience back, which should be scary for the new conference. The Sages allowed just 16.7 points per game, and that includes the 48 to IC Catholic, who steamrolled everyone to a state championship. Harman's right in the middle, back to solidify that group.
Aug. 25 - at Stanford Olympia
Sept. 1 - at Illinois Valley Central
Sept. 8 - Champaign St. Thomas More
Sept. 15 - at Rantoul
Sept. 22 - Bloomington Central Catholic
Sept. 29 - at Tolono Unity
Oct. 6 - Pontiac
Oct. 13 - at Fairbury Prairie Central
Oct. 20 - St. Joseph-Ogden
COACH: Josh Jostes (18th year, 153-52 record)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 12-2, lost to Deer Creek-Mackinaw 35-7 in 2A state championship
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Deondre Gregory, Sr., RB; Aaron Inda, Jr., DB/WR; Hayden Mitchell, Jr., DB; Max Davenport, Jr., WR; Spencer Hawbaker, Sr., LB
OUTLOOK: Even with the loss of its quarterback, several key offensive pieces and multi-year starters at linebacker, Maroa's not hurting for talent.
Ian Benner comes in as the new quarterback and has a wide range of targets, including two new ones in the big and bruising Daanish Mahmood and the small and quick Xavier Goetz. Defensively, the line and secondary should be ready to go immediately and bring scoring opportunities for the defense.
Maroa was firmly in 2A last year after bouncing between 1A and 2A the last couple of years. Now at 381, Maroa may end up in the 3A playoffs.
Aug. 25 - New Berlin
Sept. 1 - at Pittsfield
Sept. 8 - at Williamsville
Sept. 15 - at Pleasant Plains
Sept. 22 - Petersburg PORTA
Sept. 29 - Athens
Oct. 6 - at Riverton
Oct. 13 - Auburn
Oct. 20 - at North Mac
COACH: Trevor Higgins (2nd year, 9-2 record)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 9-2, lost to Newton 35-13 in 3A second round
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jacob Beeson, Sr., QB; Connor Voudrie, Sr., OL/DL; Ian Harbert, Sr., RB/LB; Jack Clark, Sr., RB
OUTLOOK: The Panthers had their conference title dreams dashed by Vandalia at the end of last season as Carlinville earned the tiebreaker. Beeson and Co. will make another run with a plethora of experience — 19 seniors in all. Beeson has a whole year under his belt, but it's the defense that may be most formidable. Most of the defense is back after giving up 6 points per game last season.
Aug. 25 - at Greenville
Sept. 1 - Roxana
Sept. 8 - at Gillespie
Sept. 15 - Carlinville
Sept. 22 - at Staunton
Sept. 29 - at Hillsboro
Oct. 6 - Piasa Southwestern
Oct. 13 - at Litchfield
Oct. 20 - Vandalia
COACH: Jason Clay (2nd year, 8-2 record)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 8-2, lost to Tolono Unity 46-20 in 3A first round
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Marcus Zimmerman, Sr., WR/DB; Ethan Bayles, Sr., OL/DL; Chandler Boyd, Sr., LB; Trevor Smalls, Jr., RB/LB
OUTLOOK: Clay's debut season couldn't have worked out better. The Vandals transformed into a defensive stalwart, holding their ground in nail-biting victories over Gillespie (15-14) and Roxana (16-14). The offense was able to pick up after that but it will need to rely on a new playmaker after losing Richie Well at quarterback.
Aug. 25 - at Gillespie
Sept. 1 - at Hillsboro
Sept. 8 - Greenville
Sept. 15 - Litchfield
Sept. 22 - at Piasa Southwestern
Sept. 29 - Staunton
Oct. 6 - at Carlinville
Oct. 13 - Roxana
Oct. 20 - at Pana
COACH: Jay Bohner (1st year)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 1-8
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Kelby Groves, Sr., WR/DB; Jarod Brandenburg, Sr., QB/DB; Pacen Logue, Sr., OL/DL; Luke Richards, Jr., OL/DL; Levi Brandenburg, Jr., OL/DL
OUTLOOK: Throughout more than the last decade, Casey used a bruising line to mow down Little Illini opponents. First-year coach Joy Bohner is hoping the Warriors can recreate success with the most experienced group on the team — the line. It would be a welcome bounceback for Casey, which hasn't seen two recent seasons since the early 60s.
Aug. 25 - at Paris
Sept. 1 - Newton
Sept. 8 - at Flora
Sept. 15 - Robinson
Sept. 22 - at Lawrenceville
Sept. 29 - Salem
Oct. 6 - at Bridgeport Red Hill
Oct. 13 - Marshall
Oct. 20 - at Olney
COACH: Jason Fulton (11th year, 51-46 record)
LAST YEAR'S RECORD: 11-1, lost to Carlinville 32-21 in 3A quarterfinals
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Gabe Fulton, Sr., OL; Wade Frohning, Sr., OL; Connor Bierman, Jr., RB; Connor Brown, Sr., RB
OUTLOOK: There are significant losses, sure, but the rushing attack is sure to still leave most Little Illini opponents reeling. This year, it will most likely come from a multitude of backs instead of one.
Aug. 25 - Georgetown-Ridge Farm
Sept. 1 - at Casey-Westfield
Sept. 8 - Lawrenceville
Sept. 15 - at Bridgeport Red Hill
Sept. 22 - Robinson
Sept. 29 - Flora
Oct. 6 - at Marshall
Oct. 13 - Olney
Oct. 20 - at Paris