2013 KHQA BARNSTORM TOUR: IC LOOKS TO CROSS ONE LAST CHAMPIONSHIP THRESHOLD
There are no further thresholds left to cross for Tri State Football's most ascendant college football program.
From here on out, it's either Championship or Bust in Jacksonville....
Michael Bates: "It's something that we have talked about all camp, winning a Midwest Conference Championship. This school hasn't won one and we really want to be the first. We were the first, my freshman year, at making the playoffs and now we want to be the first to win a championship"
Garrett Campbell: "Yeah, it is exactly where you want to be. We want to be in the position to win Championships. And going to the National Playoffs is obviously the other goal. We have two goals because now you are talking about taking this program on a National Scale and that is where we wanted to take this program from the beginning."
The evolution of Illinois College Football from Perennial Also-Ran to now legitimate Player on the National Division Three Landscape mirrors that of the coach who inspired it. Six years ago, Garrett Campbell arrived on campus in Jacksonville with a reputation for Video Game Passing Pyrotechnics...and he delivered instantly as promised. But when that alone wasn't moving the meter as far as it needed to go, Campbell's emphasis changed. One need only look at the quality of the Blueboy Ground Game and the men who front it to see how much.
Keith Lane: "Coach Campbell has done a great job of getting new guys in here every year in the off-season weight program and you can definitely tell."
Duerr: To have that kind of size, to have that kind of physicality up front, which you didn't have when your first got here...how does that make your job easier?
Michael Tonry: "Yeah, it's a beautiful thing. The holes open up so great. Cecil, Lammy and me, we are able to do our thing out there. Just be athletes, making moves. What else can you ask for, you know?"
Cecil Brimmage: "I mean, who wouldn't want that big Offensive Line out there blocking for em. What do you expect?"
Keith Lane:" We take great pride in protecting those guys, especially Michael (Bates) and opening up holes for Cecil. We take great pride in that and our size definitely helps."
Garrett Campbell: "You're right with the lines, because it all starts with the line's play, I don't care what Offense you run or Defense you run. The second is just overall Defense. I think we are just so much better. The first few years with Mitch Niekamp throwing the ball around, or even Michael throwing the ball around, it was hey, first one to 50 was going to win the game. And now we are a point where we are actually slowing people down, playing great Defense, and doing some great things. That is the other part of the evolution that I am very proud of."
What that has wrought is a very intriguing equation. Five starters, including All Conference Lineman Kurt Frischman, returning from a unit that finished third in the MWC in Total Defense. And eight holdover starters from the nation's eighth most explosive offense at 42 points and 506 yards per game. Just how good are the Blueboys on that side of the ball? Not only do they return a Top 5 league rusher in Cecil Brimmage, but arguably the league's two best quarterbacks as well. Michael Bates, obviously but also Kendall Gibson, who led the MWC in passing efficiency after the incumbent went down to injury.
Garrett Campbell: "Joking with another Conference Coach, he said, hey I will trade you anybody for one of those Quarterbacks. Any one of them. I'll take em. And that's a credit to our recruiting as a staff, we've done a good job getting kids excited about the competition within positions."
All that's left then is for this talented crew to figure out how to get over the top. And incentive won't be in short supply after this team missed the postseason by a single game last fall...
Michael Bates: "I'd have to say that was probably the toughest loss I've ever had in my 12 years of playing football. It's tough to come one game from making the playoffs...and not just making the playoffs but also getting the Midwest Conference Championship. So that's really been on my mind since that game and I know that come Hanover (the season opener) that will still be on my mind) and come the tenth game of this year that will still be on my mind."
Garrett Campbell: "We've been so close the last three years to winning the conference. We've finished basically almost a game out each year. We've been down right to the end of the season, I don't know that it is any one thing. It's just a matter of when the big lights are on, the bright lights are on, we really have to step up and win the game."