ARCOLA – For so long, Arcola's football program was one of the area's best. The Purple Riders won state titles in 1978, 1985 and 1988 under legendary coach Steve Thomas. Everywhere you turn on the Douglas County campus, you're reminded of past gridiron success.
There's the mural in the school's gymnasium commemorating the state champions. On the press box at the football field, signs are posted honoring the state champs. There are even more signs lining the fence inside the football field with the same message. To say the sport matters in the community would be like saying Michael Jordan was a decent basketball player.
ST. JOSEPH – If coach Dick Duval asked, Will Lindsey would carry the ball 30, maybe even 40 times a game.
But with the success St. Joseph-Ogden has had in the passing game this season, the senior tailback doesn't have to worry about having his number called so often.
URBANA – Every story has a beginning, and this one starts with a concerned mom and dad wanting to do the right thing for their child.
"My parents wanted me to learn to swim for safety," Anne Danenhower said.
CHAMPAIGN – On the piano, Centennial senior Jonathan Hinds is sufficiently well-versed to play "Sonata in G" by Chopin.
The question, however, is whether Hinds plays it with a smile on his face. Everything else he does – or so it seems – comes with a grin.
ARCOLA – Arcola coach Jarod Kiger has his starting defense on the field at a practice. He's got a scout team lined up on the other side simulating the plays the Purple Riders' quarterfinal opponent, Greenfield-Northwestern, will run Saturday.
He instructs everyone, on both sides of the ball, to go half speed to see the plays develop.
WESTVILLE – You might say that Dusty Zaayer likes to make an impact.
That's why the Westville junior enjoys competing in demolition derbies.
TUSCOLA – Tyler Carter always has stood out.
Since the Tuscola senior was a little guy, his bushy red hair and freckled face have drawn attention. It's noticeable from yards away.
CHAMPAIGN – Centennial tailback Mikel Leshoure, a 2006 News-Gazette All-Stater, has made a commitment to join the Illinois football team.
Leshoure made it official Tuesday, visiting with the Illinois coaches at practice. In the Varsity Room parking lot, Leshoure said he decided to make his decision now and not take any other visits.
Four area teams are left. How many will survive the third weekend of the IHSA football playoffs? Staff writer Marcus Jackson takes a look:
Each Sunday, prep sports coordinator Fred Kroner will review Saturday's playoff action: