When asked about working to improve the football team’s overall record of 3-7 from last year, head coach Andy Gibbons describes the strategy as a year-long process.
“We put a new strength and conditioning program in place and a fresh way of recruiting all last year,” Gibbons said. “Both of these things have worked very well.”
The strength and conditioning program, which was put in place by running backs coach Aaron Willits and offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Kevin Kraus, included a faster-paced lifting program and sprints of longer distances.
“We are in the best shape we have been in [for] a while,” Gibbons said.
With Willits and Kraus taking over strength and conditioning, this gave Gibbons extra time to spend on recruiting. As a result, the football program gained 29 recruits.
“We originally had 31,” Gibbons said. “But due to injuries before pre-season, they were unable to come. Hopefully, we will have them added next year.”
Gibbons described the recruiting class as the best he has had in a very long time.
“Overall, from top to bottom, it is a class where everyone can be a starter at Knox at some point,” he said. “I can’t remember the last time we had that. A lot of them will contribute greatly to our program.”
Some key veterans of the program include seniors Jim Schwab and Tyler Hopfauf on the offensive line, junior Bill Meyer at quarterback, senior wide receivers Derek LaRosa and Evan Massey, senior running backs Brent Newman and Cody Engle, and junior running back Dan Kizior. The defensive side has returning senior defensive end Tighe Burke, senior defensive lineman Joe Garbin, senior defensive end Maurice McDavid, sophomore defensive end Elliot Madison, senior safety Jordan Raess, and senior linebacker Aaron Juarez.
“The defensive line in general will probably be the strength of the team,” Gibbons said. “But, the offensive line is tremendously important to our success as a football team.”
There were some switches made, such as junior Kevin Meyers from defensive line to left guard on the offensive line, and sophomore Adam Mize from defense to offense.
There are some issues the team will struggle with, including losses of key graduated players from last year, three overnight trips to Wisconsin, and competing against top-ranked rival Monmouth College.
According to Gibbons, some major losses include alumni Sammy Almohandis at corner and Lucas Leckrone, Kevin Thomas, and Brad Becque on the offensive line. Leadership skills such as those of Mike Kizior will also be missed.
“It’s always hard to let them go, but you have to replace them as they leave,” Gibbons said.
The three overnight trips to Wisconsin this year may be a challenge for the Prairie Fire.
“We have not played well in overnight games the last few years,” Gibbons said. “That is something we need to work on, because it has been an issue in the past.”
As far as the rivalry with Monmouth College, strategies will be determined once the date approaches. “It is so far away,” Gibbons said. “They are the team to beat for sure, but it is too far away to think about that right now. The first part of the season will impact the Monmouth game. We have nine games to take care of before then.”
Overall, Coach Gibbons is very optimistic for this season.
“We’ve been through the stages of rebuilding and are transitioning at this point to hopefully what will be a winning season,” he said. “I’m not going to put any limits on what we can do this year. I’m hoping we will start off with wins at Eureka and against Illinois College. The sky is the limit.”
The Prairie Fire kicks off the season at Eureka on Saturday. Their first home game will be against Illinois College on Sept. 12th inside the Knosher Bowl at 1 p.m.