What you should know about Knox College's football opener

Mike Trueblood
Special to The Register-Mail
Knox College's Adam Ries, who is sharing the defensive coordinator responsibilities with Cody Hipp in 2022, talks to the Prairie Fire's football team after the first practice of the season Thursday at the Knosher Bowl.

GALESBURG — Knox College's second-year football coach Aaron Willits says the Prairie Fire are out to "sell the school pride."

That effort will be on full display at 2 p.m. Saturday when Knox hosts Westminster College at the Knosher Bowl in their season opener.

The Fire will play on brand new turf complete with purple end zones while wearing new purple uniforms with Green Bay gold helmets to cap a preseason effort to promote Knox football and the college in the community.

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"We're just trying to be more engaged," said Willits, whose team visited local restaurants for dinner nights out, distributed schedules and flyers, took part in the Blessings in a Backpack program and worked with Knoxville's JFL team to make more people aware of what's happening regularly on Saturday afternoons just a few blocks south from downtown Galesburg.

"During one of our events, one of my players jokingly said, 'Are we trying to recruit players?'

"I said, we're recruiting players, we're recruiting parents, we're recruiting people to sit in the stands," said Willits.

They'll have a chance to be there Saturday to see if the Fire can get their first win of the season.

Taking a look back

Knox went 3-6 last season after an 0-3 start. Last year's scheduled opener at Westminster in Fulton, Missouri, was called off because of COVID-19 concerns at that school.

About Westminster

The NCAA Division III school is a member of the St. Louis Collegiate Athletic Conference. The Blue Jays went 3-5 and graduated 12 seniors.

Blue Jay to watch

A Westminster returnee to keep an eye on will be senior runningback Taylor Dobbins.

The 5-10, 205-pounder rushed for 308 yards and 5 touchdowns in the Blue Jays season finale last season, a 56-35 win over Crown College.

That single-game school rushing record gave Dobbins 1,049 yards for the season, also a school record.

More:Coach trying to connect Knox College football to the Galesburg community

An eye on the Fire

In the annual preseason Midwest Conference coaches poll, Knox was picked to finish 7th in the 10-team league. 

Lake Forest was picked to repeat as champion with Monmouth picked No. 2.

"Our leadership is better," said Willits of his second year leading the program. "There was so much newness last year.

"We've got a better understanding of the second layer of new schemes which will enhance the player's skill sets. We want to play physical football that's the great equalizer at all levels," he said. 

"Hopefully, people will see the excitement our kids have to play football."

Knox's key performers

Leading the list of Knox's returnees is the man who will again direct the Fire's triple-option offense, senior quarterback Kaile Williams.

Among the nine returnees on offense and one of four veteran lineman is fifth-year senior Charlie Gibbons who missed much of last year with an injury. Also back is junior guard Creed Justice, a second-team All-MWC pick in 2021.

Junior fullback Hunter Anderson also returns to the backfield.

Knox's defense can count seven who started a year ago, including three on the defensive line.

Knoxville's Lucas Cruz is a fifth year senior as is linebacker Ean Rau.

Senior linebacker Davis Brumbaugh was a second-team All-MWC pick as a special teams player.

Knox recruiting, roster

The Fire have brought in 23 new players for this season putting their roster at 67, an increase from recent years.

"In a few years I want it to grow into the 70s and 80s," Willits said.

"Our recruiting concentrated on an area from Sterling to Peoria and from Peoria to Quincy. We're not just combing the Chicago area. You can get lost up there.

"It's a matter of doing the work and getting on the road and getting in front of kids and talking to them."

Next week: Knox travels to Ripon College for a Midwest Conference game. The Fire do not return home until they host the University of Chicago on Oct. 1.