Spartans eye new playoff streak

Spartans eye new playoff streak

ST. JOSEPH — The Saturday night after the 2017 regular season ended, Dwight Colvin, Keanen Swanson and Kaden Jacobs didn't do what the previous 26 St. Joseph-Ogden football teams did.

No playoff watch party.

"I knew we weren't going to make it," Colvin said, "so I tuned it out."

No research on who the Spartans would face in the first round.

"I was just in bed," Swanson said. "Nobody was doing anything."

No anticipation for that first-round playoff game.

"I wasn't very talkative," Jacobs said. "I just wanted to stay away from it."

Ask these three seniors — who third-year coach Shawn Skinner will rely heavily on — how badly they want to erase the memories of a 4-5 season a year ago and finish their prep career on a strong note, a consensus is nearly reached.

"Last year, I gained a lot of confidence, but the thing for me more than the stats was winning games," said Colvin, who rushed for 1,244 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. "It really felt like we disappointed the community, so we're definitely going to use that as a stepping stone this year to hopefully do something better for the community."

Swanson returns for his second season starting at quarterback after he threw for 1,122 yards and 11 TDs in 2017.

"For the most part, I feel really confident in knowing what I'm doing this year," Swanson said. "Losing the playoff streak, a lot of people are going to be disappointed. It takes a toll on you. Everyone felt it, but hopefully this year, we'll redeem ourselves."

Jacobs will contribute to the Spartans' defense at linebacker, where he compiled 41 tackles last season.

"Right after that last week of the season, I got into the weight room to get ready for baseball and to lift for football," Jacobs said. "It just motivated me even more."

The Spartans enter 2018 looking for a new playoff streak, with the season opener slated for next Friday at St. Thomas More. This begins a nine-game slog for SJ-O through its second year in the Illini Prairie Conference, a league that sent five teams to the playoffs last season. SJ-O wants to make sure it's included in the group this season.

"I love this conference," Skinner said. "Four of our five losses, we were tied or winning in the fourth quarter. We couldn't finish. This conference, there's nobody to sleep on. These guys will come at you every week. This is a great conference, and it's great to prepare you for the postseason. I think it took our kids a year to understand that."

Understanding who the key skill position players are is clear for SJ-O. Swanson, Colvin and senior receivers Aiden Meyer, Joel Orcutt and Jack Cook will look to make plays for the Spartans. According to Skinner, though, the crucial aspect for SJ-O rests with its line play. Seniors Cole Zaccarelli, Jack Ward and Ben Setterdahl are veterans Skinner will count on along the offensive line, with seniors Jarett Burnett and Sully Alwes, along with junior Chayse Livingston set to lead the defensive line.

"We are blessed with some really good athletes in the skill positions," Skinner said. "It's not going to matter if the guys up front don't move people. We saw that last year. The people that excite us are the big guys up front on both sides."

Jacobs, along with junior Brayden Weaver (team-high 55 tackles in 2017) are veterans at linebacker, with senior Adam Frerichs — who also accounted for eight rushing touchdowns a year ago — and Cook, among others, key parts in the secondary.

Making sure all the pieces fit on a 64-man roster for a program intent on making it back to the playoffs this season rests on Skinner. He's keenly aware of the external expectations — having played on the 1989 team that was the first SJ-O team to reach a state championship game — the Spartans have built up through the years.

So are his players. Especially after last year's disappointment.

"Missing the playoffs might have been a big wake-up call for our team," Swanson said. "It pushed a lot of our seniors this year to work a lot harder in the offseason and stay focused this year."

Colvin echoed those sentiments, roughly 10 months after he watched rival Unity win a first-round playoff game against Pontiac, wishing he would have played that Saturday afternoon instead of viewing it as a spectator.

"I want to get past the first round of the playoffs," Colvin said. "I haven't made it past the first round of the playoffs in my whole high school career. There's a lot of anticipation coming up because we've got a lot of guys coming back this year. I'm really excited to see what we can do. Hopefully we can make some noise this year."

ST. JOSEPH-OGDEN'S 2018 SCHEDULE

DATE OPPONENT TIME

Aug. 24 at St. Thomas More 7 p.m.

Aug. 31 vs. Rantoul 7 p.m.

Sept. 7 at Bloomington Central Catholic 7 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Unity 7 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Pontiac 7 p.m.

Sept. 28 vs. Prairie Central 7 p.m.

Oct. 5 at Chillicothe IVC 7 p.m.

Oct. 12 at Olympia 7 p.m.

Oct. 19 vs. Monticello 7 p.m.

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