Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland stronger, more experienced heading into I8FA season

Falcons enter the fall returning almost everybody from spring campaign

Up until just over a week before kickoff, the Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland Falcons weren’t sure if they would have a Week 1 opponent.

In an 11th-hour scheduling find, fellow Illinois 8-Man Football Association program West Central — an I8FA powerhouse — will be visiting FCW in Flanagan Aug. 27 ... and as good as it is, West Central will be contending with what looks likely to be a tough, experienced flock of Falcons.

“The most exciting thing is returning as many guys as we are, and adding some new faces too,” said FCW head coach Todd Reed. “After we lost (2019 I8FA All-State lineman) Kyle Uhl with some health issues after Week 2 (during the COVID-delayed 2020-21 school year season last spring), we have every starter returning on both sides of the ball. And not only that, we have added depth with the new faces, which will be huge for us. ...

“The No. 1 goal, the thing we talk about, that’s the playoffs. You have to be in that top 16 (in the 8-man standings) to make the playoffs this year, and I feel really confident with what we’ve got, the way camp went with our numbers and the weight room. The buy-in is back.

“That was the No. 1 thing when I took over — I didn’t want to see this program die. … What we have coming back and with the added faces we have in the program, we’ve got some good things going.”

Among those good things is the aforementioned eight returning starters on both offense and defense as well as some other contributors from the spring who are now upperclassmen.

“About every day, we talk about ‘the days of us getting displaced are over.’ It’s our turn to displace teams. We’ve got some strength now and some confidence.”

—  FCW football coach Todd Reed

That includes names such as QB Dallas Hamilton; RB/LBs JD Ruddy, Chris Stasko, Will Weber and Jesse Simpson; WR/DBs Sam Jones (an I8FA All-State and Times All-Area selection), Keegan Boldt, Tyler Pfaff, Jacob Gamblin and Ethan Kane; TE/DEs Phoenix Cooper and Ethan Schumm; and OL/DLs Nolan Deats, Shawn Brinkmeyer, Michael Gamble, Jase Torres and Joey Jones.

Reed seems especially excited about his dual tight ends — both outstanding athletes — working out of a double-tight set; his “Bash Brothers” Stasko and Weber at linebacker for the third straight season; the development of the lines with more experience and lots of work in the weight room; the sheer talent in the wide receiver corps led by Sam Jones, Boldt and Pfaff; the running-back rotation bringing in plays and keeping fresh legs; and, of course, Hamilton back behind center with all those weapons with which to to work.

In addition to playing a JV schedule, something the Falcons were unable to do in the spring, a few underclassmen will be asked to contribute quite heavily on Friday nights as well. A trio of linemen — freshman Ayden Raske and sophomores Drew Novotney and Kesler Collins, a TE/DE — look early on to be in line for featured roles.

As for those lines, Reed said the team’s offseason dedication in the weight room has been a game-changer.

“There are a lot of questions (as to who will play on the O- and D-lines), but if they can be physical, they will get some time,” Reed said.

“About every day, we talk about “the days of us getting displaced are over.” It’s our turn to displace teams. We’ve got some strength now and some confidence … and to me, the best thing to hear from an opposing coach is, ‘Man, you guys are physical.’ That’s our goal right there.”

After the visit from West Central, the Falcons visit Peoria Heights and then South Beloit, host Milford-Cissna Park Sept. 17 in Flanagan and Polo Sept. 24 at Woodland, take the trip to Martinsville, host Hiawatha in rural Streator Oct. 8, visit Pawnee in Week 8 and St. Thomas More in Week 9.

J.T. Pedelty

J.T. Pedelty

J.T. is a graduate of Streator High School, Illinois Valley Community College and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale who is some 22 years into an award-winning sports journalism career.