DANVILLE — The names of Danville High School’s football players should sound familiar to fans this season.
Coach B.J. Luke could start as many as eight seniors on offense who first earned varsity letters in football as sophomores. On defense, seven of the regulars are seniors who played significantly as sophomores in 2007. Three other key defenders also lettered as sophomores, but they are currently juniors.
“When Coach gave us the opportunity to move up as sophomores (following a 9-0 freshman season), he gave us the opportunity to learn and to teach us,” said senior halfback Mario Crosby, who is one of nine Vikings seeking their third football letter this fall.
“Now as seniors, we’re veterans. We’ve been together for three years.”
Classmate Cameron Ford, a tight end and defensive end, sees a natural progression among the current seniors.
“The opportunity to play as sophomores gave us confidence as we progressed,” Ford said. “Now, there’s nothing to worry about. When it’s time, we line up and play.”
Football savvy is Ford’s greatest development since 2007.
“My sophomore year, I was going against people who knew the speed of the game better and were beating me off the ball,” he said. “As a senior, I believe I’m the best I can be at my position.”
Danville opens the 2009 season — which will include nine successive Big 12 Conference games — on Friday against preseason league favorite and state-ranked Bloomington.
Malcolm Anderson is the quarterback, with Crosby being one of a bevy of backs capable of gaining yards.
“We have outstanding depth at that (running back) position,” said Luke, who could call upon Edward Clark, MykeTez Forman, Mallory Lampkin and Justin March, among others.
“Mario will take most of the snaps as long as he’s healthy,” Luke added. “He’s a powerful kid, good vision, a good burst and he’s good in pass protection. He blocks well.”
As a junior, Crosby was the area’s 11th leading rusher with 1,114 yards. He averaged 6.4 yards per carry. In part-time duty, Anderson completed 26 of 60 passes for 524 yards and five touchdowns.
Three-year starter Alex Janssen is expected to be a line anchor at guard. However, the senior has been slowed by a sprained ankle and a sprained knee from separate non-football incidents.
The first-game line will likely include Jacob McBride at center, James Seyfert and Mike Bowman at guards and Keith Mayfield and Paul Webb at tackles.
Seyfert, a sophomore, will fill in for Janssen.
“James is a very aggressive kid and has been a pleasant surprise,” Luke said. “That bodes well.”
Luke said he feels just as good about his receiving corps as he does about his running backs.
He called Ford, “an outstanding tight end who is almost like a tackle who can run.”
Among the other pass-catchers will be Clowzell Adams, Keaton Britt, Derrick Cunningham and TeJuan Jackson.
“We have a lot of athletic guys who can move around and make plays,” Crosby said.
Cunningham was the area’s No. 7 receiver last fall, catching 27 passes for 498 yards and five TDs. Ford hauled in 12 receptions and gained 268 yards.
The third-year senior lettermen on offense, besides Crosby and Ford, are Adams, Bowman, Cunningham, Forman, Jannssen and Mayfield.
The defensive front features Mayfield at noseguard and Tommy Rose at tackle with Ford and Morris at the ends.
“All four have good size and strength and are physical kids who can run,” Luke said. “They’ve all played quite a bit.”
Experience is evident with the front four.
“The majority of the line has played 20 varsity games already,” Ford said.
Crosby and Cunningham return as outside linebackers. Quintin Brown and March are the inside linebackers and will replace two of the three graduated defensive starters.
The secondary returns intact with Adams and Forman at the corners and Clark at free safety. Adams and Clark tied for the area lead last season with five interceptions.
“Defense is a real strength,” Luke said. “We’ve got kids who have played a lot of football.”
Ford doesn’t mind being counted on to play on both the offensive and defensive platoons.
“I consider myself more of an offensive player, but I don’t shortchange defense,” he said. “I don’t want to come off the field. I think I can make plays to help the team.”
Danville received votes in the state’s preseason Class 6A poll, but did not crack the top 10. First-game foe Bloomington is tied for sixth. Danville is tied for 11th along with another Big 12 representative, Normal Community.
“We could be (ranked), we’re good enough to play with anybody,” Luke said. “Every week, we’ll be capable of winning and if you’re in that position, you feel pretty good about your position for the season.”
Ford returns as the Vikings’ punter. Either Anderson or Forman will handle the placekicking duties.
The current senior group helped the varsity to a 5-5 record when they were sophomores and a 7-3 mark last season. Crosby is excited about what could be in store for this season.
“Get ready, ‘cuz here comes Danville,” he said.
The Vikings’ assistant coaches include Brian Anderson, Chris Dryer, John Fogleman, Marcus Forrest, Daniel Hile, R.J. Luke, Steve Luke, Frank Luzenske, John Pendleton and Mitch Thomas.