MATTOON — Around Mattoon High School, it is clear changes are afoot.
Backhoes are in place, fencing is being removed as the high school prepares for construction of several sports playing fields, including an field-turf upgrade to the football field. As a result, the Green Wave will be playing all of their home games at Eastern Illinois University's O'Brien Field this upcoming season.
"The soccer field will be turf, baseball will be turf and football will be turf. They are also putting a new tennis court down," Mattoon head football coach Troy Johnson said. "We appreciate Eastern Illinois for letting us play there and it sure beats having to travel for every game. Eastern has been so good to us with the Charleston game and the (Coles County) Clash there, which is always a big game for us.”
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Senior quarterback Jackson Spurgeon is excited to get the chance to have more time on the field at EIU but it is bittersweet for him to have played his last true home football game.
“I’m pretty sad because the last home game last season against Lincoln there was a pretty good turnout but I didn’t know that it was my last game on the field,” Spurgeon said. “It was sad but EIU is going to be a lot of fun and hopefully a lot of fans come out. Hopefully there are some EIU coaches that can take a look at me.”
Spurgeon has been working on his game at camps this summer and is approaching this season with a different attitude.
“I’ve been going to a couple of quarterback camps at (Southern Illinois) and Illinois State. Those camps really helped me out and they are really fun,” he said. “When I didn’t go to those camps in my freshman and sophomore years and I took some time off, I almost took too much time off. I lost my footwork and lost my rhythm. Those camps brought me back, kept me throwing and kept my arm strong. I’m feeling really accurate now so it's really good.”
Johnson agrees with Spurgeon’s self assessment and he is depending on him as the Green Wave (2-4 last season) have many shifting parts in the offensive and defensive game, including replacing the running core.
“Jackson looks really good. It is funny as you watch a kid go through. He played some as a sophomore and he is throwing the ball a ton better, which is what you expect,” Johnson said. “They are going to make a lot of mistakes as sophomores, less as juniors and as seniors, it is time. He has done that. He's a good player, smart kid, fun kid and a hard worker. He wants to be successful, so that helps."
With a group of underclassman fighting for running reps in the offense — Taeriek Grace, Aidan Blackburn, Kobe Cardwell and Toby Klein — Spurgeon and his two senior wideouts look to expand the air attack this season.
"We’ve got Derrius White and Matthew Gordon as my starters. I really love passing with them and we have the chemistry going now and throwing on time. We are ready to go," Spurgeon said. "We are opened up for more passing and a lot of play action, where I have multiple guys running routes. It is great to have those options out there."
The Wave open their season in a non-conference match-up against Troy Triad in Week 1 and then begin their Apollo Conference schedule at EIU against Mount Zion in Week 2. But Johnson is laser-focused on that opening game next Friday.
"I'm not the kind of coach that looks far down the schedule. For me, this is the game we are playing and this is where we are at. When one is done then I can tell you who we are playing next," Johnson said. "I’ve tried it in the past where we have worked ahead and worked on game plan stuff ahead but it didn't work out. I will worry about this one and the next one when this one is over."
Spurgeon, however, has marked the Coles County Clash with Charleston in Week 7 as a must-win. Charleston topped Mattoon 27-7 in last year's meeting, the Trojans' first win in the series since 2012.
"It is going to be big. Charleston had their time. I think it was time for them to win one but I think it is coming back home, that’s for sure," Spurgeon said. "It was a tough loss. Especially as your last game, but we have to bounce back and I think we will do that.
"Last year, I was nervous starting but for your senior year, you might as well go out with a bang. You've got to try your hardest and I don’t think I will be nervous any of the games we play. I’m ready to throw the ball and get the win."
Check out the Herald & Review's high school football coverage for the fall 2021 season
Week 1 of the high school season kicks off next Friday, Aug. 28
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