The warm days of summer football practice gave Argenta-Oreana's players their first opportunity to really get to the know the new field turf up close and personal.
And they can't get enough.
"They love it," Bombers coach Steve Kirk said. "They enjoy coming out everyday and playing on it, practicing on it. The track just got done and they even enjoy running on the new track."
The turf was installed during in the spring as a part of several construction projects around the Argenta-Oreana High School campus. Kirk said the improvements make his life little easier.
"For me, it’s a huge difference as a time saver," he said. "Everything is already lined. Our practice field — later in the season it would be dirt and it would be hard. Now we are guaranteed to have a good place to practice and a good place to play from June until the end of the season. It’s a softer surface than what we are used to being on."
Argenta enters camp with an offense that could develop into one of the best in the area under the leadership of junior Josh Williams, who racked up more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and 26 total touchdowns last season in leading Argenta to the second round of the Class 1A playoffs.
The Bombers also return running backs Makail and Malik Stanley, and running back Skyler Peterson.
But Kirk said there's plenty of competition for playing time.
"We’ve had some good battles this summer — guys fighting for spots and there are still some spots open that guys are fighting for that probably won’t be resolved until the middle of camp," he said.
One more run for Odam
After passing for 1,246 yards and 10 TDs as a sophomore, Taylorville quarterback Brandon Odam emerged as unstoppable last year, throwing for 2,884 yards and 29 TDs, and rushing for 813 yards and 10 TDs.
Brandon’s uncle and Taylorville coach Jeb Odam said Brandon will be even better as a senior.
“He hit the weight room hard the last couple offseasons and put some good weight on,” Jeb said. “But it’s mental, too. He’s always been a kid, no matter what the sport, who the game seemed slower to him than to other kids — he sees things really well. But he’s processing it even faster now.”
Jeb said, as Brandon’s uncle, they have an interesting coach/player dynamic.
“I coach him up like a dad would coach his son — I’m hard on him at times,” Jeb said. “Some of our off-field discussions get pretty interesting. I’ve enjoyed it, and I’m sure the hell going to miss him after this year.”
Vandalia turns to Wells, Smalls
After a successful season in which Vandalia advanced to the 3A quarterfinals, coach Jason Clay must find new offensive solutions after losing all-state receiver Marcus Zimmerman, who set a school-record in receiving yards last year.
It doesn't help that the Vandals are also losing some key starters from the offensive line.
But there is hope for Vandalia in senior running back Trevor Smalls and junior quarterback Matthew Wells. Smalls, a two-year starter, is nearing the school's all-time rushing record. But it's Wells who Clay said could make the biggest jump.
"We feel like we can expect big things coming into year two as a starter," Clay said of Wells. "He'll have a better command of the offense and physically be able to make more plays."
Clay said he also hopes Vandalia receivers Blake Morrison and Caleb Slater continue to improve.
"They played a lot for us last year and had a lot of catches, so hopefully those guys can take a bigger role in offense," Clay said. "I don’t think we will have a single player as good as (Zimmerman) but the parts may be greater than what we had last year as far as the receiving corps."
No one was happy with Mount Zion's season last year, in which the Braves finished 5-4 and missed the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
But coach Patrick Etherton said that disappointing result has the team refocused this summer.
"Our kids were upset — that’s not their expectations or Mount Zion’s expectations," he said. "Our kids are very driven and focused on what it’s going to take for them to win and be successful.
"They don’t want to be 5-4 again. They don’t want to be sitting at home during the playoffs. I think it kind of lit a fire under them and I think you can tell."
Etherton said he's seen the result of that fire in the weight room.
Our kids have done a great job getting bigger and stronger," Etherton said. "Football-wise, we’ve had great attendance all summer and our kids are here doing what they need to."
The Braves' starting quarterback spot is up for grabs with a competition between junior Matt Carpenter and sophomore Ashton Summers.
"We’ve got some quarterbacks that we’ve got to get them as many reps as possible," Etherton said. "We had six nights of 7-on-7 at our place, and I think each quarterback threw over 200 passes this summer in competition.
"Overall, our quarterbacks are our main focus, getting them a bunch of reps videotaped and evaluated because they are younger and they need to see coverages and different things. I thought we did a good job of letting them do that."