PLAINFIELD – All it takes is one. One victory to start and the rest will follow. One victory to show that all the hard work, blood, sweat, tears and time invested into something that you believe in was worth it.
For Plainfield Central coach John Jackson, the winless streak for the Wildcats stands at 20 games across two-plus seasons. That is the heavy burden he hopes vanishes quickly this year.
“Honestly, in my life, I never thought that I would look at an 0-9 season, let alone two back-to-back,” Jackson said. “Last year, we went into the season telling the kids that this has to change and they did everything that I could have asked them to do. They worked during the offseason and it didn’t translate to the field.”
The last Wildcats’ victory was 28-0 over Plainfield East on Oct. 12, 2012.
Plainfield Central averaged 13.6 points a game last year and was outscored, 248-121.
“Offensively, we were rather inept and defensively we were lacking in spots and just didn’t get it done,” Jackson said. “I will tell anyone to not judge those kids last year simply on their record. We would like to be more physical and more consistent.”
Last year, the Wildcats started the season with Matt Gurke at quarterback and, after a few games, made the change to start sophomore Marcus Hayes and moved Gurke to wideout. This season, there is no quarterback controversy as Hayes is the unquestioned starter.
“Last year, I said if we are thinking of making the move, just do it and if we struggle, we struggle with a sophomore,” Jackson said. “Matt (Gurke) was the consummate team player and actually will be playing wideout for Benedictine (University). We wanted to maximize Marcus’ talents and be more of a conservative offense along with our running game.”
Hayes earned valuable playing time last year and now has had an entire offseason of workouts, conditioning and understanding the playbook. Hayes appeared to have some early success and a connection with wideout Nate Graves.
As Hayes hopefully progresses, the question will be the same for the rest of the team and whether it will translate onto the field.
“Certainly, one thing that we all felt that we needed to develop this year over last was competition,” Jackson said. “Maybe in the past, some guys felt that because we didn’t have the depth that they didn’t need to work as hard, but that is not going to be the case this year.”
Seniors Trevor Ervin and Andrew Black will see playing time at the running back position, as they will be interchanged with Adam Hayes.
“I want to be in a position this year where I have a lot of kids that I can use and interchange,” Jackson said. “That is one thing that we wanted to push this year was more depth on both the offense and defense sides of the ball.”
Defensively, the Wildcats’ linebackers will be the strength, anchored by Jake Johnson and Trevor Smeets.
“A few years ago our defense was terrible,” Jackson said. “Defensively, we need to continue to improve as a quick, disciplined and physical defense. Last year, our defense was good and we were in games but our offense was weak. This year, we’re hoping that we have the right mix of both.”
Three teams qualified for the playoffs last year from the Southwest Prairie Conference, with Oswego being the conference champions. History has shown a team can rebound from a difficult year and make the playoffs the next year.
“I’m not into predictions, but I know it makes me feel good when my peers tell me that they do not see this as a 0-9 team,” Jackson said. “Every team in our conference is tough and it is always a dogfight.”
WILDCATS AT A GLANCE
Coach: John Jackson
2014 record: 0-9, 0-7 in Southwest Prairie
Classification enrollment: 2,024 (probable class 7A)
Offensive coordinator: John Jackson
Defensive coordinator: Anthony Imbordino
Returning offensive starters: QB Marcus Hayes, WR Nate Graves, WR Justin Montalto, RB Andrew Black, OL Nathan Yusko, OL Nick Prah, C Taylor Schmidt, FB Trevor Ervin.
Returning defensive starters: LB Jake Johnson, LB Trevor Smeets, LB Christian Ruff, DB Issiah Dunson, LB Adam Hayes.
August: 28 – at Marmion Academy, 7:30 p.m.
September: 4 – at Rich Central, 6:15 p.m; 11 – Oswego, 7 p.m.; 18 – at Romeoville, 7 p.m.; 26 – Minooka, 1 p.m.
October: 2 – at Plainfield North, 7 p.m.; 9 – Oswego East, 7 p.m.; 16 – at Plainfield South, 7 p.m.; 23 – Plainfield East, 7 p.m.