ARCOLA --For the last 10 seasons, the Arcola football team has averaged nine seniors. There has not been a number close to this year's number of 16 since 2006 when there were 15 seniors.
The 16 seniors have reached the Class 1A quarterfinal for the first time in their careers. The seniors are 31-11 currently and the nine wins are the most they have had also (9-2).
"It is an awesome group," said Arcola coach Nick Lindsey. "They have worked really hard. They have never missed a weight room and never missed anything in the summer. It all starts with them. In any program that is successful, you will have a group of seniors that is their core group. The success we are having this year is largely due to them and the work that they have put in not only this year but in the years past. I am super happy for them and I couldn't ask for any more out of them."
Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Arcola takes on Central A&M at Moweaqua for the right to advance to the semifinals.
The seniors have already done something that has happened only one other time in program history as they are a part of six straight playoff appearances. The other time was 1988-1993.
"Football is such a big thing here and I love playing it," said Arcola wide receiver/cornerback Jordan Melton. "I have played since fourth grade. That is a lot of football. Almost all of us, all but one or two, have played since fourth grade. It really helps a lot. There is a lot of good chemistry. It is a good bond between all of us."
The Purple Riders began the season with a 43-6 victory over Argenta-Oreana, who was ranked No. 6 in the state at the time. After a 45-42 loss to Tuscola Arcola began play in the inaugural Lincoln Prairie Conference topping Villa Grove/Heritage 41-6 and downing Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond 36-7. After a tough 28-26 loss to Cumberland, the Purple Riders have reeled off six straight wins. It is the longest winning streak since winning the Class 1A state title in 2015 with a 14-0 record. The streak started with a 48-6 win over Sangamon Valley/Tri-City and a 62-20 triumph over Tri-County. A 49-13 win over Blue Ridge and a 57-26 victory over Decatur LSA/Mount Pulaski ended the regular season.
Arcola's first five opponents all made the playoffs in Class 1A or 2A and overall the Purple Riders faced six playoffs teams.
The Purple Riders beat Tri-County in the first round 42-19 and last week topped Greenfield/Northwestern 23-14.
"It feels really good to be this far and we are happy but not satisfied," said lineman Mason Myers.
Fullback/linebacker Pedro Gauna said, "We (the seniors) have all been really good friends since I can remember. To share the game of football and all of loving it is something really cool."
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With the 16 seniors, the team has been able to put in a lot of things.
"This is probably the most we have been able to put in," said Lindsey, who is in his fourth season. "They pick things up so quickly. You don't have to spend a lot of time putting in something new because they have been at it for three years at the varsity level and a lot of them are three-year starters. Their football 1Q is really high for most of them. the way they grasp things and the mindset they have is what makes them different."
Melton, whose dad Ryan is a 1993 Arcola grad and former player, said, of his classmates, "We are out here every day for each other. it is almost like we are brothers."
As for his dad, Melton said, "I have heard numerous stories about him growing up with coaches like (Steve) Thomas and (Bryon) Bradford. He helped impose that Arcola tradition that everyone talks about."
Myers's father, Doug is also an Arcola grad who played football.
"Ever since I was little he has talked about football and that is a big factor as to why I play and a lot of us probably play for our parents to try and carry on the tradition they have installed in us since we were little," said Myers.
As for his class Myers said, "to have so many of us it is really like a family. We know we are all going to be there for each other. it is good to have that depth and that big of a senior class. "
The seniors have accounted for all but 14 receptions and all but 313 yards rushing.
"it such a fun group to coach and they are all coachable," said Lindsey, a former assistant at Tolono Unity. "They come to practice ready to work week in and week out. It is just a special group to have not only at a size of our school (219.5) to have that many together, but a group of really talented kids as well."
There are 34 other players on the team.
"They probably don't even realize how important they (the senior) are to those kids," said Lindsey. "They set such a good example and do so much for the program and for the younger kids. I don't think they understand how much the younger kids probably look up to them. Years from now when hopefully we are still having a lot of success they will be able to look back and know that they were a huge part of it."