Western Illinois football is ready to put past disappointments behind as the Leathernecks kick off their spring season Saturday at Hanson Field.
WIU seeks to shake off not only the postponement of last weekend’s game at South Dakota but also the frustrations of a 1-11 record in 2019 followed by no fall season because of the global pandemic.
“In 2019 we were battling injuries, and because of that a lot of younger guys had to step up and fill those roles. When you have a situation like that, there can definitely be some challenges along the way,” sophomore running back DeShon Gavin told Prairie State Pigskin recently.
Yet, Gavin and his teammates feel optimistic heading into Saturday’s opener against Missouri State in a scheduled eight-game Missouri Valley Football Conference-only slate.
“We’re looking a lot more explosive out there,” said Gavin, the former Providence Catholic standout.
Head coach Jared Elliott and his staff brought in a dozen transfers to revamp the roster.
“Almost everybody that we brought in has been standing out,” running back and return specialist Justin Hall said. “Having more weapons is always better.
“We have a good understanding of the plays and the concepts. We’ve got things off the field in a good spot. I feel like those things make the offense move smoothly.”
New names to know
Running back Morian Walker and receivers D’Angelo Biggs and Dallas Daniels are among the new faces and uniform numbers WIU fans will notice having immediate impacts on the field.
“He’s been an explosive piece and a veteran too,” Gavin said of the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Walker, who spent time at both Nevada and Utah State prior to coming to WIU.
“I don’t want to compare Biggs to any teammates because he brings in a whole new kind of explosive, but he’s one of our slot receivers that you definitely want to keep your eyes out for,” Gavin said. “(Daniels) is going to be a tremendous receiver here. I’m excited to see him on game day because he’s been tearing it up here at practice.”
Head coach Jared Elliott addressed the high number of new players on the roster during his weekly radio show.
“I love the group of guys that we’ve added,” Elliott said. “There are a lot of new faces of this football team. Great energy and excitement.”
Scouting Missouri State
The preseason poll placed WIU and Missouri State in the lower portion of the Missouri Valley standings. And like WIU, the Bears had their scheduled game called off a week ago.
Missouri State was 1-10 overall in 2019 and has replaced Dave Steckel as head coach with Bobby Petrino.
Redshirt freshman Jaden Johnson has been named the starting quarterback after transferring from FBS Southern Mississippi. On defense, the Bears added senior cornerback Jeremy Webb, a transfer from Virginia Tech.
WIU must defend 6-foot-3 Damoriea Vick and 6-5 Lorenzo Thomas as receivers.
News & Notes
WIU opens up MVFC play versus Missouri State in back-to-back seasons; the 2019 opener required three overtimes before the Bears pulled out a 37-31 win . . . the Leathernecks have won three of the last four matchups against Missouri State . . . Quarterback Connor Sampson, linebacker Eryk Preston and receiver Tony Tate are the WIU captains this season . . . punter Adam Fellner was named an MVFC preseason honorable mention. The Ozark, Mo., native finished the 2019 season 18th in the FCS and third in the Valley, averaging 42.5 yards per punt. He booted a punt a career-long 64 yards in the Leathernecks’ season-finale at Northern Iowa, and on 194 career punts – 31 traveled over 50 yards, 46 were downed inside the 20-yard line, and 46 were called fair catches.
Where you can watch
The game will air on ESPN+/3 online with a noon kickoff from Hanson Field in Macomb. The WIU radio call is available on MIXLR.