What you need to know about Mercer County Golden Eagles football
Playing football in the Lincoln Trail Conference is not for the timid.
Seven of the league's nine teams - including Mercer County - made the playoffs last season and the Golden Eagles were in the thick of the race, finishing just behind co-champions Knoxville and Abingdon-Avon.
With eight regulars returning on both offense and defense, Mercer County expects to be fighting for the top spot again and continuing a run of 12 straight playoff appearances.
"One thing people see is our diverse offensive scheme - we have a lot of moving parts - and on defense we are aggressive," said Andrew Hofer, in his sixth year as head coach.
"It's always exciting this time of year to see the summer effort pay off and you put the pieces of the puzzle together."
Last year, the Eagles lost 3 of their first 4 games - including a Week 2 forfeit to Knoxville due to COVID - but won five games in a row after that. They finished 6-2 in the LTC and 6-4 overall. The season ended with a 33-24 loss to Sterling Newman in the IHSA Class 2A playoffs.
But that adversity may have made Mercer Country stronger for 2022.
"I think you can look at it as building blocks," said Hofer.
"A lot of guys - even our juniors - came out and took a lot of snaps and are now experienced players.
"You can do a lot more things that you couldn't do previously."
Ready for a run
Dominated by a young roster in 2021, the Eagles have lots of talent returning.
All-Conference players back include seniors Carson Kellett on the offensive line, Owen Relander at defensive back and Ian Willits on the defensive line.
Relander was also a second-team pick as a wide receiver and Javin Dellitt was a second teamer at defensive back.
An honorable mention returning at defensive end is Brecken Heinrichs.
Other veterans who will play big roles are quarterback Matt Lucas and juniors William Fredrickson at runningback/linebacker and Colby Cox.
Abundance of riches
Asked to pick some key performers, Hofer said, "I wouldn't pinpoint one guy. We spread the ball around. It will take multiple guys to have the season we're looking for."
Jumping into the fire:
The challenges start quickly for the Eagles.
After opening at home against defending Prairieland Conference champ Farmington on Aug. 26, they are scheduled to visit Knoxville on Week 2, host United Sept. 9 and Abingdon-Avon on Sept. 16, therby starting the season against four straight playoff qualifiers from 2022.
"Especially with experience you have going, you want to test yourself," said Hofer.
With Ridgewood converting to 8-man football this season, the LTC will function as an 8-team league this year.
In 2023, the LTC will combine with the Prairieland Conference to form a 17-team football-only conference tentatively named the Lincoln Trail-Prairieland Conference.