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      2014 KHQA Barnstorm Tour: ILLINI WEST CHARGERS


      Since the early 1990's, Hancock County has served as THE Tri-State hotbed of Running Back talent.

      But even against that lofty standard, this seven deep bumper crop of backs at Illini West is a rare windfall.

      Austin Curfman: "All of our running backs and our quarterback...we have chemistry together. We've been playing together for four years."

      Lyle Klein: "We've moved some guys around but having all those guys back and all that experience, we were able to hit the ground running right away"

      Dalton Merry: "We're not the biggest team up front. But because we have that speed advantage, it gives us a little more power."

      Good luck finding "the slow guy" in the Charger Offensive Backfield. It's certainly not reigning 200 meter State Champion Jacob Sholl. Nor is it three sport star Nolan Ard. And by converting Austin Curfman and his 7.2 yards per carry rushing average to Fullback, IW now has outlier acceleration at it workhorse position as well. Factor in QB Braden Bennett and Kaden Huston and the Charger Backfield boasts four players with runs of 40 yards or better last season; three who hit for better than 70 on a given carry, and four guys who averaged five or more yards per touch. With that kind of weaponry, you don't need to be real fancy to be effective. And for Lyle Klein, who will now

      call his team's offensive plays this season, that move precipitates a return to old school Hancock County Football.

      Duerr: "If you have got five or six plays run perfect. That's enough, isn't it?

      Lyle Klein: "I think so. That's always been the philosophy here. That was the philosophy years ago, we had success with it. It was the philosophy in college, we had success with it. Really the big thing is doing things right."

      That season defining ground game will only be as good as a completely rebuilt Offensive Line allows it to be. But to this point, the early returns have been positive.

      Colton Mellinger: "We don't look very big, but we are definitely fast."

      Lyle Klein: "I like the athleticism that we have with the guys up front. I like some of the bigger guys, that they've gotten involved in the weight room and the speed training over the Summer. And that they've taken the time to make themselves better. Our offense is all about movement and getting players that have some athletic ability. We won State Titles with 160 pound guards in the past so it's not something that we are afraid of, putting a guy in there. I like what we have up front. I don't see that as a weakness, I just see our backfield as a major strength. Those guys I think we help out our linemen. They will set up some things that other backs aren't able to do."

      But the greater avenue back to greatness is cleaning up a Defense that gave up 40 or more points four times last fall.

      Dusty Waddell: "I think since we have the people who are fighting for positions, we are going to be more aggressive. We are going to want to hit people. Last year we weren't the most physical team but this year we are going to work on that."

      Dalton Merry: "This is our Senior Year and we are all pumped. We are a lot more aggressive. We've been doing a lot more Captain's work to get everyone involved that way so we can hit harder and finish our tackles."

      Colton Mellinger: "Last year we got beat first round of the playoffs and it still kind of hurts."

      Lyle Klein: "We have a lot of really good Senior Leadership. Defense is a whole other ball game. Football is a rough sport and you have to be a rough young man on the football field to play it well."