Veteran Falcons already thinking ahead after 2017 state championship

Veteran Falcons already thinking ahead after 2017 state championship

GIBSON CITY — Jared Trantina enjoyed an ice cream cake two days after Thanksgiving.

The reason had little to do with the holiday — and more to do with celebrating a state football championship, an accomplishment Trantina and his Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley teammates achieved last November.

So Trantina, a fullback and linebacker on last year's undefeated team, indulged himself.

Only for a little bit, though.

"Two weeks after the state title," Trantina said, "I got back on my nutrition plan and started working out really hard."

GCMS is done resting on last year's accomplishments. A 14-0 record, a dynamic offense led by Mitch McNutt, a stout defense consisting of quality playmakers throughout and a second-half rally in the Class 2A state title game against Maroa-Forsyth culminated on Nov. 24, 2017, with downtown Gibson City filled to the brim with GCMS fans reveling in the first-ever state title won by the Falcons.

In any sport.

The march toward another possible state title begins at 7 p.m. today when the Falcons — The News-Gazette's No. 1 team in its preseason poll — make the short trek across Ford County to open their season at rival Paxton-Buckley-Loda.

"We're ready to play," GCMS senior Bryce Barnes said. "Paxton has been on our calendar for a while. They've been saying they can do it this year, but we're ready to show them."

Barnes & Co. showed what the Falcons could do last season. With key returnees like Trantina, Barnes, senior Nathan Garard, senior Ryland Holt, senior Josh Bleich and others, expectations haven't dimmed this fall around the GCMS program.

"We're definitely confident," said Garard, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound quarterback for the Falcons. "Being able to play those extra five weeks at the end of the season last year, it was more practice time for guys that are going to fill in spots this year, and it was more practice time for the starters, too. We were able to jump ahead of some other teams that didn't get that opportunity last year."

Garard threw for 1,044 yards and 16 touchdowns last season out of the Falcons' wing-T offense.

Gone from that is McNutt, The News-Gazette's Player of the Year in 2017 who rushed for an area-best 1,693 yards and 32 touchdowns. But veteran coach Mike Allen knows he has a solid replacement at tailback after Trantina (5-8, 200) rushed for 1,577 yards and 26 touchdowns the last two seasons.

"He's a natural tailback," Allen said of Trantina. "He's been a fullback for a couple years and doing what's best for the team. He never argued and never complained about it. He did his job. Now, it's his turn to shine, and he's ready for that."

Senior Layne Harden (5-10, 160) and junior Daniel Jones (5-6, 155) are in the mix to get carries at wingback, with senior Austin Spiller (6-0, 200) and junior Payton Kean (5-9, 195) vying for time at fullback.

Holt (6-4, 200) and Barnes (6-2, 225) are the Falcons' top two returning receivers, with Barnes hauling in the game-winning touchdown pass from Garard on an acrobatic catch to seal the 38-32 win against Maroa-Forsyth and deliver GCMS a state title.

"Since that game, I've probably seen it about 10 times," Barnes said with a slight grin. "I try not to watch it as much because it was last year, but it's still nice to watch."

Senior Lane Short (6-2, 205) and junior Tanner Cribbett (5-9, 135) are other options Garard could throw the ball to behind a robust offensive line.

Senior Hayden Workman (6-3, 270) is expected to anchor the offensive line after starting last season, with Bleich (6-3, 235), senior Joe Allen (5-10, 230), senior Garrett Wright (5-10, 240), junior Jordan Lee (5-9, 240) and junior Keegan Kutemeier (5-9, 230) all expected to contribute.

Bleich (100 tackles, five sacks in 2017) and Barnes (82 tackles, seven sacks) are the leaders of the defensive line, with Workman and Joe Allen expected to chip in.

Trantina is an outside linebacker the Falcons will rely on, with Spiller, Kean and Kutemeier in competition for time at inside linebacker. Garard, Short and Lance Livingston all return in the secondary.

Rounding out the talent for GCMS is a solid kicker in senior Ben Freehill (6-0, 170) who can change field position with one of his punts or kickoffs while giving GCMS a consistent presence in extra points and field goals.

All of which makes the thought of GCMS going on another memorable playoff run there for the taking.

"We want to move on," Mike Allen said. "And these guys did. I'm telling you what, and people maybe don't believe it, but I've never seen a more humble group. They won a state championship for the first time in school history, and the next day, four of them are playing in a basketball game. As a coaching staff, we couldn't be more proud of how they've handled themselves."

Or their diets. McNutt became well-known for his strict food intake, and Trantina follows that example. Almost.

"I'm not as crazy as Mitch," Trantina said with a laugh, "but we pretty much have the same nutrition plan. It's little to no sugar and not a lot of bread. It's just high-protein stuff. Making those sacrifices really gives you that confidence on the field."

Trantina will likely sacrifice taking a bite out of an ice cream cake for the next three months. But if the Falcons win a state title on the Memorial Stadium turf in Champaign the day after Thanksgiving this year, chances are he — and the rest of the GCMS community — will enjoy another sweet celebration.

"Certainly there is a little pressure to try and repeat, but pressure is a privilege," Trantina said. "I'm pumped up. Everybody is pumped up. I just can't wait until (tonight)."