DECATUR — There are members of MacArthur's senior class who were on the field for the Generals' back-to-back one-win seasons in 2015 and 2016.
They're not ready to go back to being that kind of a team.
Last year, an 8-3 season that included a win against Central State 8 powerhouse Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin, was especially rewarding for players who stayed patient through the losses and knew their hard work would eventually pay off.
"I told the team before the season, 'This is going to be a special year, so just believe what I say,'" said MacArthur senior Malik Barbee, who has been a starter since the third game of his freshman year. "I said, 'I'm telling you, it's going to be a breakout season.' And it was."
But with two transcendent players in the Brummett twins — Amir, now playing football at Northern Illinois, and Armon, playing basketball at Bradley — plus players like Ray Neal Jr. and Izaiha Johnson having graduated, it's going to take a new cast of characters to get the Generals back to the playoffs.
The cupboard definitely isn't bare. Derrick Taylor, a relentless linebacker, along with linemen Tylan Jackson and Barbee, weren't as visible in the turnaround as the Brummetts, but were no less important. All three have been playing varsity since they were freshmen.
"These guys are ready to step up — now it's their time," MacArthur coach Derek Spates said. "These guys have to make a name for themselves now."
The memories of 2015 and 2016 are still fresh for Taylor. His freshman year was particularly frustrating — a broken big toe ended his season early after a Rochester offensive lineman landed on it. He came back and started at outside linebacker as a sophomore and played well, and the team made strides that didn't show in the record.
"We told them, 'It's going to be rough, but keep your heads up. Let's stick it out,'" Spates said. "The first year was rough, the second year, the games started getting closer."
Taylor said the progress motivated the Generals.
"No one missed a day in the weight room that summer — we got stronger and then last year happened," Taylor said. "Everybody was doubting us, but we knew what was going to happen."
After becoming a starter as a freshman, Barbee admitted he took his share of beatings.
"I was playing against seniors from other teams, so it was a learning experience for me," Barbee said.
It was the same for the rest of the team. And when they were finally playing against players their age, they were ready.
"They went from getting beat up for two years by everybody to suddenly being across the line from players who hadn't played in as many varsity games as they had," Spates said.
The difference this year is the Generals won't be able to lean on Amir Brummett, who scored 24 touchdowns last year and had 500 total yards of offense against SHG, to make a play at quarterback that wins the game.
"We have to be a brotherhood," Taylor said. "We can't let each other get down — even when there's a mistake or a bad play, we have to get behind them. Because once one person gets down, it brings everyone else down. As long as we stay together, we'll be good."
Barbee is confident that brotherhood will keep the Generals winning games.
"People might not think we'll be as good, but that's their opinion — we'll show them on the field," Barbee said.