DANVILLE -- "This report of my death," Mark Twain once wrote, "was an exaggeration."
Ditto for the demise of Schlarman High School's football program.
Those who thought the decision to play a junior varsity-only schedule in 2007 meant the death knell of a storied program were wrong.
The Hilltoppers are 35 strong this season.
"After everyone wrote us off and said we'd be a done program, the future looks very good," Schlarman coach Jay Willaman said.
Seventeen of this year's prospects are freshmen. Another 18 played last year for a 6-3 JV squad.
Schlarman is ready to tackle a season which finds it playing two games in four days. The team's opener (at Chicago Hope Academy) will be on Sept. 2. That Tuesday game will be followed by one on Friday, Sept. 5 at home against St. Thomas More.
Three of the Hilltoppers' eight seniors will be fixtures along the offensive line, including center Tommy Petersak. Left guard John Cahill and right tackle Joe Bush are also seniors.
They'll be joined by junior Anthony Drake (right guard) and sophomore Alex Torres (left tackle).
"All of those kids did a lot of work and made all of the summer practices, which makes us better," Willaman said.
There's youth in the backfield where sophomore Heath Goodwin is the quarterback and another sophomore, Mallory Lampkin, is the tailback. The veteran is senior fullback Steven Kutz.
Kutz is 1 of 7 Hilltoppers who have played in a varsity game. The others with experience are Bush, Cahill, Drake, senior James Cook, senior Vinnie Miller and junior Kyle Golden.
Cook and Miller will be prominent as wide receivers along with junior Solomon Crenshaw, the reigning Vermilion Valley Conference sprint champion.
In the receiving corps, Willaman has a variety of assets: Crenshaw's speed, Cook's strength and Miller's sure-handedness. The tight end will be Golden, who has emerged as a team captain.
Joining him in the leadership position are seniors Cahill, Cook and Kutz.
Willaman likes what he is seeing.
"I'm not going to set any (won-lost) expectations," he said, "but with the advancement they've made in the past year, there are some games we can win.
"We have the potential to be the sleeper in the conference. Our goal is to be competitive in every game."
Excluding freshmen, the lone newcomer to the team is senior Joey Payton.
Willaman is assisted by his brother, Jeff, Patrick Carley, Travis Spain and Jordan Spezia, all of whom are Schlarman graduates.
The staff won't be opposed to using some freshmen on Fridays, if they prove they can handle the varsity competition.
"We have a few freshmen who have utterly amazed us as far as their capabilities," Jay Willaman said. "We have some freshmen who will flat-out hit you."