Wilson, Blue Devils look to keep success intact

Wilson, Blue Devils look to keep success intact

VILLA GROVE — The band is back together — about 30 miles from the location in which it originally formed.

Heath Wilson was Dan Hennessey's defensive coordinator with the St. Thomas More football team for nine seasons before accepting the top position at Jacksonville Routt in 2014.

Chad Slack followed in Wilson's footsteps with the Sabers.

Now, all three are part of the Villa Grove/Heritage football staff for the 2018 season — with Wilson leading the charge in his first year as the Blue Devils' coach, with both Hennessey and Slack coming out of retirement for their buddy.

"I knew there were great coaches on board (already), and that I could get great coaches that I used to coach with at St. Thomas More," Wilson said. "They said if I'd come back here to be head coach, they'd coach again, and I don't think they thought I would come back this way."

But the Unity graduate indeed returned to the area he calls home this summer, and the Blue Devils — who host Tuscola on Aug. 24 in their season opener — have spent the past two months learning about the program's fourth coach in the last five campaigns.

Joe Stokowski coached VG/H the last two seasons, compiling a 10-9 record in the process, with Stan Wienke producing a 9-2 mark in 2015 after Chad Musselman went 57-25 in eight seasons from 2007 to 2015.

Next on the docket for VG/H: following up on last year's 6-4 record and Class 2A playoff berth.

"Everybody's counting us out here and there," Wilson said. "People say we can be 5-4. I think this team can be a lot better than 5-4."

Wilson's confidence is born from a strong offseason, during which VG/H averaged about 35 athletes per workout and displayed a commitment level on par with Wilson's desires.

Still, the Blue Devils' future is void of some key contributors from 2017.

Quarterback Codie Baker, who compiled 1,627 yards and 15 touchdowns through the air last season, has graduated along with key rushing threat Ethan March, top receiver Manny Crafton and leading tackler Quincy Roberts.

On top of that, junior Chase Burwell suffered an injury over the summer and will miss extended time. Burwell paced the VG/H ground game last season with 68 carries at 4.5 yards per try.

"Hopefully we'll get him back sometime this year," Wilson said. "We're young, but these kids are eager to get going. They're very disciplined and they want to win."

Senior Evan Wilson will step in to control the offense under center, while guys like senior Michael Badgett will try to fill the void at running back as senior Cole Thomas heads the receiving corps.

Wilson is especially upbeat about his linemen on both sides of the ball. Junior nose tackle Carter Smith checks in at 6-foot-5 and is flanked by seniors Tristan Burton and Dylan Campbell, among others.

"We have some good-sized linemen that can definitely give us some holes for our running backs," Wilson said. "They should be able to get two yards a pop. If not, something's wrong."

The goal for Wilson as he establishes his first Blue Devils unit is making sure there's some comfort in the team's operations. At the same time, he has an idea for exactly what he hopes to see VG/H football become as the Blue Devils vie for their 20th playoff appearance this fall.

"We'd like to be a fast defensive team if possible, and offense-wise, too," Wilson said. "I grew up around the triple option and I've coached the spread, so we're going to do what our players can do. We're going to coach to their style ... and what our advantages are."

VILLA GROVE/HERITAGE'S 2018 SCHEDULE

DATE OPPONENT TIME

Aug. 24 vs. Tuscola 7 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond 7 p.m.

Sept. 7 vs. Decatur Lutheran 7 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Martinsville 7 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Cumberland 7 p.m.

Sept. 28 vs. Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin 7 p.m.

Oct. 5 at Oblong 7 p.m.

Oct. 12 vs. Tri-County 7 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Cerro Gordo/Bement 7 p.m.

-