Familiar faces keep Purple Riders a tight-knit, win-focused unit


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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.

"Most of us on the team have been playing since fourth grade," rising senior lineman Beau Smothers said. "That gives the team a really, really laid-back atmosphere with each other."

That descriptor doesn't mean the Purple Riders are too relaxed, though.

Their most recent record of 8-3, which includes a Class 1A postseason victory over Salt Fork, attests to that.

"We also have another side to us," Smothers continued, "where we all can flip the serious switch and be very, very into the game and very intense."

A strong crop of returnees will retain this dual-minded focus in Nick Lindsey's third season pacing the Arcola sidelines, a key reason why the Purple Riders are No. 9 in The News-Gazette's preseason Top 10 ahead of the 2019 season.

And Lindsey has a feeling this group can be even better than last year's, or the 2017 outfit that finished 7-3 with a 1A playoff berth.

"Most of these guys started as sophomores that are in our senior class," Lindsey said. "We've had some good additions, our younger kids as well. I think it could be really beneficial."

On the latter end of the scale is incumbent starting quarterback Beau Jones, a rising sophomore who tossed for 948 yards and 15 scores last season.

Protecting him will be an offensive line mostly intact from the previous campaign, including Smothers and fellow rising senior Hugo Garza.

"It'll help us a lot," Garza said. "Especially since experience is a big factor when you play at the varsity level. So just being more comfortable out there on the field is definitely an advantage."

The Purple Riders' skill positions also won't go through any significant overhaul.

Rising junior Austin Hopkins rushed for 1,385 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. Rising senior Pedro Gauna added seven all-purpose trips to the end zone, and rising junior Ivan Franco accounted for 20 catches and seven touchdowns.

"These past two years, the (younger) running backs and slot receivers have been at the varsity level," Gauna said. "So coming into this year, our senior year, we know that there's nobody else above us. And knowing that we're the top dogs now is going to make us hungrier."

So too should recent history.

Arcola's latest state championship came in 2015 — not so far removed from the minds of the current Purple Riders.

Returning squad members also came away frustrated from their 2018 second-round postseason setback, a 41-0 loss at Concord Triopia.

"That last game against Triopia didn't show who we are as a team," Franco said. "We felt like we didn't give it our all."

Such performances have been rare among this bunch, and Lindsey doesn't expect many like it this fall.

"These kids also know that when it's time to go, it's time to go," Lindsey said. "They can buckle down and focus."

Some bulletin board material for Arcola comes in a Week 1 matchup with reigning 1A semifinalist Argenta-Oreana. The two could battle for supremacy in the new Lincoln Prairie Conference, no doubt one of many goals the Purple Riders possess.

Not that they're giving away any of those missions.

"We can say we all want to have a very, very good senior season," Smothers said with a smile, "and leave high school with the best memories we can on the football field."

Monday morning quarterback

Beau Jones posted an up-and-down run under center last year. Which makes sense, given he was just a sophomore. He'll retain starting duties as a junior this season. "He's just got a better understanding of our offense," Purple Riders coach Nick Lindsey said. "He's playing with more confidence in himself. He's doing a really good job of being more of a leader and telling people where to go and their assignments."

Coach speak

Lindsey's first two campaigns with Arcola resulted in a cumulative 15-6 record and a pair of Class 1A postseason appearances. Not bad when following in the footsteps of Zach Zehr, who guided the Purple Riders to a 1A state title in 2015. "Nothing's ever given," Lindsey said. "We can't take anything for granted. Having been able to reach the second round, and then the way the season ended last year, it lit a fire (under us)."

We're talking playoffs

Their first playoff win happened ... in 1976, when Arcola defeated Marshall 40-14 in a Class 2A first-round game.

Their most recent playoff win was ... in 2018 when the Purple Riders defeated Salt Fork 31-13 in a Class 1A first-round game.

Their best-ever finish was ... as 1A state champions in 1978, 1985, 1988 and 2015.

When you can see Arcola


Aug. 30 at Argenta-Oreana 7 p.m.

Sept. 6 vs. Tuscola 7 p.m.

Sept. 13 at Villa Grove/Heritage 7 p.m.

Sept. 20 vs. ALAH 7 p.m.

Sept. 27 at Cumberland 7 p.m.

Oct. 4 at Sangamon Valley 7 p.m.

Oct. 11 vs. Tri-County 7 p.m.

Oct. 18 vs. Blue Ridge 7 p.m.

Oct. 25 vs. Decatur Lutheran 7 p.m.

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).