SJ-O is bulking back up in more ways than one for the 2019 season.
ARCOLA — The old saying goes that familiarity breeds contempt.But familiarity also can forge strong bonds.Ask members of the Arcola football program, which graduated just a fifth of its 45-man roster from 2018.
New starters, a new coach and a new paint job has kept Salt Fork's offseason busy, but that's not stifling the Storms' expectations for the 2019 football season.
How does Fisher football — ranked No. 7 by The News-Gazette in its preseason Top 10 poll before the 2019 season starts — plan to follow up its breakthrough season from a year ago?
Each Monday leading up to the start of practices on Aug. 12, we’ll unveil one team in our preseason Top 10. Today: No. 6 Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin
TUSCOLA — In real time, it can be hard to find a silver lining within a season-ending football defeat.
There were ample tears and hugs when Tuscola dropped a 63-28 decision to Maroa-Forsyth last November in the Class 2A quarterfinals. That wasn’t the time for silver linings.
Eight months later, fifth-year Warriors coach Andy Romine is willing to expose such a reality.
“Last year’s team, for us, should’ve been very senior-dominated,” he said, “Based off injuries ... the kids that are coming back this year got a lot of time last year that ... we wouldn’t have thought would’ve happened.”
That’s a significant reason Romine is so excited about this Tuscola crop, ranked No. 4 in The News-Gazette’s preseason top 10 ahead of its Week 1 home date with Villa Grove/Heritage on Aug. 30.
Sure, veterans such as star quarterback Luke Sluder and powerful lineman Brayden VonLanken have moved along.
But in their stead comes a stable of athletes that is comfortable with Romine’s system.
“We have a lot more kids who know what’s going on,” rising senior Brandon Douglas said. “A lot more depth going for us. So I feel like we’ll be able to play at a lot faster tempo.”
That’s not just in a sense of playcalling, either.
Romine described the 2019 Warriors as the “lightest on their feet” in his tenure, something Douglas concurred with.
Tuscola won’t shy away from its typical physicality, yet it’ll have a quickness that may not have been as pronounced among some of Romine’s previous clubs.
“On our line, we definitely have a lot more speed,” rising senior Max Wyninger said. “In the past we’ve had a lot of bigger kids, maybe a couple over 300 pounds. ... But I think we have plenty of speed compared to past years.”
The Warriors also plan to deploy a two-headed monster at quarterback to replace Sluder, who accounted for 2,513 all-purpose yards and 36 touchdowns last season.
Rising senior Logan Tabeling, the reigning News-Gazette All-Area baseball Player of the Year, makes up half that equation.
Rising sophomore Jalen Quinn, an All-Area boys’ basketball first-teamer in ninth grade, accounts for the other half.
“(Quinn will) be all over the field,” Romine said. “No matter how good a kid is, if he lines up in the same spot all the time, we can account for him. ... And then Tabeling’s so good as an H-back also.”
The combination of Quinn and Douglas as wide receivers also intrigues Romine, as does the way his defensive alignment should change this year.
“We’re going to ... kind of get back to our roots of being a little bit more aggressive, and part of that is based off the fact we run well on the perimeter,” Romine said. “That, to be honest with you, is what’s got our kids most excited is getting back to being aggressive.”
That goes with mapping out future goals, too.
A rugged first four weeks greets the Warriors, including rival Arcola in Week 2 and potent Central Illinois Conference foes Central A&M and St. Teresa the following two weeks.
“(The Arcola game is) going to be a lot of fun,” rising senior Jonah Pierce said. “It’s something that usually doesn’t happen anymore, and we just started it up last year and it brings a lot to the table.”
Winning that bout as well as the CIC would offer sizeable feathers for the Warriors’ cap.
The team’s upperclassmen, however, also know Tuscola isn’t far removed from a 2017 state final appearance.
“The biggest goal is winning a championship,” Tabeling said. “If you’re having any expectations of being below that, you’re wrong. So I think, at this point, we’re going to try to get it done.”
Monday morning quarterback
Luke Sluder did it all in his last year under center, tossing for 1,779 yards and rushing for 734. Now, Tuscola coach Andy Romine will turn to a combination of rising senior Logan Tabeling and rising sophomore Jalen Quinn at QB. “We’ve been really lucky here at Tuscola where we just have some kids who can naturally spin the football,” Romine said.
Romine’s previous four years helming the Warriors have resulted in a cumulative 44-5 record and a Class 1A runner-up finish in 2017. Tuscola climbed to the 2A quarterfinals last season, and Romine feels there could be more to come. “I fully expect this team to be playing their best football as we work into November,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to taking a chance with this group.”
We’re talking playoffs
➜ Their first playoff win happened ... in 1982, when Tuscola defeated Oakwood 14-7 in a Class 2A first-round game.
➜ Their most recent playoff win was ... in 2018, when the Warriors defeated Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin 42-21 in a Class 2A second-round game.
➜ Their best-ever finish was ... a Class 1A state championship victory in both 2006 and 2009.
When you can see Tuscola
DATE OPPONENT TIME
Aug. 30 vs. Villa Grove/Heritage 7 p.m.
Sept. 6 at Arcola 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 vs. Central A&M 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 at Decatur St. Teresa 7 p.m.
Sept. 27 vs. Clinton 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 at Sullivan 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 at Warrensburg-Latham 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 vs. Shelbyville 7 p.m.
Oct. 25 at Meridian 7 p.m