PIASA – The Southwestern High School football team has an obvious goal in mind; get back to the postseason.
The Piasa Birds found themselves in the postseason two years ago after finishing the regular season 5-4. They won their first four games, then lost four straight forcing a do-or-die Week 9 game at Gillespie, one that they won 48-24 before going out to Benton in the first round.
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Last year, with a loaded senior class, they were expecting to make a return to the postseason but wound up a game short after finishing 4-5.
“We had a couple of games last year where if we had some turnovers, we could’ve turned it around the opposite direction,” Piasa head coach Pat Keith said after practice Friday afternoon. “And being 4-5, obviously, you always look back and see a few plays that could’ve changed a game or two for you. We competed in every game in the conference.”
The team’s goal, however, might be a little tougher this time around.
Keith was happy enough with the 44 guys that are committed to the team, but 19 of them are freshmen.
“Almost half of our roster is freshmen, but we’re still in good shape. The lack of depth may be a little more for varsity than in the past.”
“You go through cycles,” Keith said. Some years you have good numbers, sometimes you don’t, it just depends on the class.”
Southwestern, playing in Class 3A for football, has a graduating class of just 79 students this year.
But they look around their conference, and it’s much the same situation for those other schools.
So, Kieth isn’t too worried about it.
“What I’ve tried to make myself realize, it is about numbers, but I need to focus on the 44 kids here, not focus on who didn’t come or who we don’t have. Just worry about the guys we do have out here and get them ready to play to the best of their ability.”
Regardless of the program’s turnout, the goal remains the same.
“We’re always wanting to get to the postseason. We have the experience coming back with some good guys, but the hardest part with us I think is going to be the old ‘ironman football’, a lot more guys play a lot more positions, on both sides of the ball.”
That’s not completely unheard of territory, but it is a bit worrisome when those guys that are playing constant minutes, might not have a go-to backup option.
Because of the lack of depth, Keith is praying that his side stays healthy, now more than ever.
The first week of practice was still a success with the team running through its offensive playbook Friday morning before ending with some conditioning and special teams work.
“I’m happy with what I’ve seen, kids are putting in a good effort, and we got a ways to go, but I know by week one when we play Gillespie, we’ll be ready to go,” Keith said.
“I think we’ll compete. Our kids know the system we run, they work hard, we’ll see what happens.”
Southwestern’s regular season schedule goes as follows:
(All games kick off at 7 p.m.)
- Friday, August 25 @ Gillespie
- Friday, September 1 vs. Litchfield
- Friday, September 8 @ Pana
- Friday, September 15 vs. Vandalia
- Friday, September 22 @ Carlinville
- Friday, September 29 vs. Staunton
- Friday, October 6 vs. Virden North Mac
- Friday, October 13 @ Greenville
- Friday, October 20 vs. Hillsboro
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