MATTOON — Last fall was rough on the Mattoon football team. For the first time since the 2011 season, the Green Wave finished with a losing record at 2-7.
Head coach Troy Johnson, who is in his 10th year of leading the program, flipped the page to this season quickly, though. It didn't take him long to stress the importance of the offseason programs so the team could focus on the upcoming season.
So far he feels like the team has put in the work in the offseason and put the 2017 season behind them. He feels like this year will be different.
"Last year is last year and this is a new year and right now we are undefeated," Johnson said. "That's the expectation going into every week. What I like about this group is that they work hard and they are doing the right things right now and hopefully, there will be some wins that come out of it."
The Green Wave return their starting quarterback with senior Jack Pilson. He threw for 899 yards last season and five touchdowns. Johnson said Pilson has improved a "ton."
"Jack is from a football family and he's pretty good. He works hard and he put a lot of time in during the offseason and he's strong. He's probably one of the stronger quarterbacks I've had," Johnson said. "He takes care of the little things and I look for him to have a good season."
Mattoon's leading receiver from last year, Landon Hoshauer, graduated. Senior Londyn Fultz could be Pilson's top target since he's the receiver with the most experience back. Johnson is also looking at Brock Smith (senior), Caden Price (junior), Hayden Birdsong (senior) and Cam Knierim (junior) to rotate in at wide receiver.
"Londyn spent a lot of time with Jack this summer. He would go to some of the same things this summer and their timing is good," Johnson said. "If there's any place that we have some depth, it would be that spot. We have some guys that can catch the football. Hopefully, if they need to play some defensive back, we can give them a break here and there."
Mattoon did lose its leading rusher from last season, Julian Gittens, graduated, but Abe Baker had a breakout season as a sophomore last year and will be the lead back this fall. Senior Tucker Overton will receive a good amount of carries, too.
"Abe is a big, strong runner and he knows what it takes to be successful. He put a lot of work in the weight room. He's a bull in a china shop. He's not afraid of contact and runs hard and he runs heavy," Johnson said. "Tucker, he's not a huge guy but he's a motor guy. He never stops running and he's always going to be in great shape."
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Baker and Overton should have plenty of holes to run through with Mattoon's offensive line returning with seniors Payton Smith, Gunner Runyon, Jackson Nichols, Keegan Rhodes and Travis Bailey.
"I think the offensive line will be a strength and those guys have been together for a while," Johnson said. "They are like five brothers and they treat each other like that. They have those brotherly arguments and they are all good friends."
Nichols, Smith and Rhodes will also see time on the defensive line. Nichols could also move back to linebacker. Senior Ayden Rappe will once again play a key role on the defensive line and juniors Caymon Lopez and Jonathen Carroll will rotate in.
Mattoon does have to replace production defensively with Garrette Branson graduating, but Johnson feels the linebacking core is the most improved group in camp. Runyon moved to linebacker and Overton will fill a role. Senior Jordan Heinbaugh and sophomore Zach Shick will rotate in.
"We moved Gunner back there and he is a moose back there and is very intelligent. Jordan and Tucker have both come along," Johnson said. "There's a couple of young linebackers moving in there. I would day over the summer and camp, that group has really come along."
In the secondary, some of the same players at wide receiver will rotate in there. Pilson could also see time at safety. Seniors Myles Woodard, Austin Stortzum and Andrew Capitosti will all see time in the secondary, too.
"Myles is another kid that's played a lot for us. As soon as stop being nervous about it, Jack could play back there or some outside linebacker," Johnson said. "Austin played last year and he is a smart player."
Senior Jake Ghere gives Mattoon another weapon as the team's kicker.
"He's added some strength to his leg," Johnson said. "He's has gotten better as he's gotten older and will be a nice weapon for us."
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