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PBL Youth Football teams ‘can’t wait’ for season opener at Dwight on Saturday, Aug. 12

PAXTON — As the second week of practice concluded on Friday, Paxton-Buckley-Loda Youth Football Seniors head coach Jim Hobson said his team is getting anxious for its first game of the 2017 season.

“We’re excited. We can’t wait for that first game,” Hobson said. “We talked to the kids about how they get to the point where they’re tired of hitting their buddies. Every team goes through it. It’s been like that in football forever. I’m always excited for the season to start. It’s my favorite sport, and I love being out here with the kids. That’s always fun.”

The anticipation will come to an end on Saturday, Aug. 12, as the Panthers travel to Dwight for week one of the Central Illinois Football League season.

“The intensity’s going to pick up next week,” Hobson said. “The players are going to get a little bit more intense. It’s going to be a fun week. We’re going to have a fun week getting ready to play Dwight. I’ve got a lot of high hopes. We’ve got a very good-sized team. We’ve got some youth and a lot of kids coming back. We’re pretty excited, as coaches, about what we’ve seen so far.”

After finishing last year with a 3-4 record, the PBL Seniors return with a full roster of 25 players.

“It’s good numbers. We’ve been around 21 or 22 most years, but we’ve got good numbers. That’s a good thing. That helps get a lot of kids get a lot of reps. We get more kids interested in this, it gets them interested in playing at the high school level, and that’s our main goal — to get these kids ready to play high school football.”

Among one of the strengths of the team, Hobson said, will be its sizable front line.

“We’re kind of blessed right now. We’ve got big, fast, athletic linemen,” Hobson said. “A lot of times, you don’t get that. You just don’t get that in youth football. We’ve got kids that are really big, and they’re fast and strong.”

Among returning skill players will be Cory Degarmo.

“We’ve got a few returning skill players,” Hobson said. “Cory Degarmo has carried the ball for us quite a bit.”

Will Henry will play in the fullback position.

“On most teams, he would probably be a lineman because he’s a bigger kid,” Hobson said. “With our size at the lineman (position), we can really utilize (Henry) at fullback, and he’s going to get a lot of carries. He’s going to carry the ball for us a lot.”

Mason Bruns, who played wide receiver for the Seniors last year, will move to the quarterback position.

“He’s had a great first two weeks of camp. He’s learning the position,” Hobson said. “He keeps working hard. He’s learning the plays. He’s learning what he needs to do to be a good quarterback and a good teammate, and that’s all we can ask for him.”

Seventh-graders are moving up to the Senior level from Juniors to fill some skill positions as well.

“We’re excited about what we have,” Hobson said. “With a bigger line and smaller kids, we’re really excited about what that is going to look like once we play a game. We’ve got a lot of young seventh-graders who are making up a lot of skill positions, and they’re getting better every day, and that’s all we can ask for.

“I’ve been really impressed with O’Quinn Gerdes. After a few days of practice, I think we might have a good ballcarrier there, and he’s been doing really well. Aiden Johnson’s been quite impressive. He’s got a lot of speed. He’s one that we’re going to look to as a seventh-grader to help us out on the offensive side of the ball, both as a receiver and as a running back.”

Following their season opener at Dwight, the PBL Seniors will travel to Watseka on Saturday, Aug. 19. The Panthers’ home opener will be Saturday, Aug. 26, against Iroquois West, followed by home contests against Dwight (Sept. 9) and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley (Sept. 16), a road game against Clifton Central (Sept. 23) and the CIFL playoffs a week later.

All games are scheduled to start at 5 p.m.

“I don’t circle any games on my calendar,” Hobson said. “I’m a firm believer that you can only play your next game. You can’t play the game three weeks from now. That’s a belief I have. I know some teams will look at their schedule and will circle a team and say, ‘That’s our rival. We’ve got to beat them.’ In my opinion, you need to be that way every week with whoever you play. There’s not one team that you can look past.”

Unlike the Seniors, the PBL Juniors do not have much in terms of size, says head coach Bob King.

“I know last year’s group was so big. I had these big, beefy kids. Now I don’t have them,” King said. “We’ll have to get by with something smaller.”

Regardless, King said he is excited about the start of the season.

“We’re pretty excited. We’re young and we’re small, but really quick,” King said. “We’re playing a lot of smaller kids on the line, which makes me a little nervous, but we’ll be quick. The main thing is we’re learning. The kids out here are working hard wanting to learn.”

The kids will need some time to learn, as the 23-man roster as what King estimated to be about nine fifth-graders.

“I think it’s pretty close to that,” King said.

Four of the estimated 14 sixth-graders are in their first year of CIFL football.

“They’ve been working really hard. They listen,” King said. “They mostly listen pretty well. We don’t have a lot of experience back, so it’s going to be a little bit of a challenge, but I think the boys are practicing really hard and doing really well. I think as the season progresses, we’re going to really improve.”

For at least a few fifth-grade players, the future is bright, King said.

“We’ve got a couple of fifth-graders who are really showing strong,” King said. “We’ve got probably two or three fifth-graders who are going to be getting a lot of playing time.”

The PBL Juniors will face Dwight in their season opener at 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12.

“We probably don’t have great quarterback play. We’re going to run the ball. We’re going to fire off our blocks and tackle well,” King said. “We’re going to teach them how to do it right, and hopefully, we’ll be good.”

Last year, both the PBL Juniors and Mighty Mites lost to Dwight via 14-6 and 18-12, respectively, on Aug. 27, 2016. The Mighty Mites lost their contest in overtime.

“It was really kind of a heartbreaking loss for these kids,” King said. “Some of these kids remember that and want to get back at them. Hopefully, that works out well for us.”

At 3 p.m. Saturday, the PBL Juniors will host their Ford County rival GCMS.

“I’m old-school Paxton. I’ve got that Gibson thing,” King said. “I think Gibson’s probably going to be the class of the league. Seeing what they had last year and what they’re bringing back, I’d say they’re probably one of the tougher teams in this league.”

With 3 p.m. Saturday matchups at Watseka (Aug. 19), at home against Iroquois West (Aug. 26) and Dwight (Sept. 9) in between the Dwight and GCMS games, the Panthers will have a chance to improve from week-to-week before their week-five matchup against the rival Falcons.

“We’ve got an opportunity to grow until we have to face them,” King said.

Mighty Mites
The PBL Mighty Mites will play in their season opener at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12, at Dwight.

“We’re pretty excited for it,” PBL Mighty Mites head coach Bobby Kinnaird said. “The kids are pretty anxious to get it started. We’ve got quite a bit of talent this year.

They’re looking pretty good. You learn everything in your first game about what’s going to happen and how you need to adjust. We’re just anxious to get to that point and see how it’s going to go.”

The Panthers’ Mighty Mites will go into the season with 19 total players on their roster.

“It’s a happy medium,” Kinnaird said. “You’d like to have around 22-23 kids, at minimum, to start out, but 19 is a happy medium. It’s better than having 15. I’m OK with the numbers.”

After ending last year in the first round of the CIFL playoffs, Kinnaird said his team looks like it could be competitive this year.

“We have quite a bit of talent this year. We’ve got some good backs,” Kinnaird said. “Most of our returning kids from last year are actually linemen, so that helps out quite a bit. They know what to expect on the line and how to do things. They’re helping the backs out to understand the holes.”

The PBL Mighty Mites’ starting quarterback is returning as a fourth-grader as well to the third- and fourth-grade Mighty Mite level.

“He understands how to show the newer kids where the holes are and where the plays are supposed to go and things of that nature, so that helps quite a bit,” Kinnaird said.

Following their season opener at Dwight, the PBL Mighty Mites will travel to Watseka on Saturday, Aug. 19. The Panthers’ home opener will be Saturday, Aug. 26, against Iroquois West, followed by home contests against Dwight (Sept. 9) and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley (Sept. 16), a road game against Clifton Central (Sept. 23) and the CIFL playoffs a week later.

All games are scheduled to start at 1 p.m.

“We look forward to all of them,” Kinnaird said.

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