WEST FRANKFORT (WSIL) -- The West Frankfort football team has made the playoffs over the last couple of seasons, but they graduated some key seniors. This year’s group understands if they want to make a return trip to the postseason, it starts now with conditioning workouts.
“We love hard work, we love winning, come on hard work,” West Frankfort Head Football Coach Brian Beery instructed his team at the beginning of Wednesday morning's conditioning workout.
“Champions are built because they are willing to do things other people aren’t willing to do. We’ve got to push ourselves past our comfort level so we get better each day, and that is the goal right now. Just work as hard as you can and a little harder after that.”
“You’ve just got to have heart to play the game and be on the field giving 110 percent every second,” said Junior Defensive End Hunter Stitely. “Got to have the will to win. If you don’t have the will to win, you’re going to end up quitting or being on the bench. I try to be a role model for other kids, and I hope when I graduate they’ll end up becoming a role model to push the other kids.”
Not only are the kids using this time to identify themselves as leaders, guys like junior quarterback Heath Neibch are trying to win starting jobs. It’s hard to do when there’s no football on the field.
“It’s tough,” Neibch said. “Over quarantine, me and a couple of my buddies would come out here and throw the football around. Try to stay safe but at the same time put some work in, and for me, it’s all about trying to work on my agility, and it’s tough not being able to throw a ball, but at the same time it might help me in the long run.”
“Connor Eaton was a special quarterback and before him, my son was quarterback, Brandon Beery, and every quarterback is different,” Beery said. “Every skill position is different. It’s real important to find the strengths of a kid and play to those strengths. With the people we have this year, we’ll probably be throwing the football quite a bit, so it’s great to have a dual-threat kid, whether it was Brandon Beery or Connor Eaton or whoever the next quarterback is going to be. Heath Neibch could be that guy, and as long as he’s working hard and finding things he’s really good at that will bring us wins, then we’ll roll with that.”
Workouts are a little different this time around as compared to years past, but it’s something every team is learning to deal with.
“Learning to adapt is going to be very big for this season. This is something no coach has been through, having these kind of guidelines. So people when they are released they can hit the fields first and get as much learning done as possible at the beginning is going to have a huge impact, because right now we are so far behind where we normally are that it’s scary as a coach. So it’s going to be important that we hit the ground running when we are released so we can get these kids ready to play Friday night football.”
And the Redbirds are adapting. They got a taste for the playoffs, and it’s a hunger they can’t ignore.
“Me and my buddies, Hunter Stitely, Tanner Clark, TJ Willis, we’re all buddies with the class that started it,” Neibch said. “Connor Eaton’s class and Mason Clay and all those guys, we’re all buddies with them. Last year, it was just so special to be able to make the playoffs and make the town proud, and we really got a taste for it and really got a hunger for it. So I feel like this next year we’re really hungry to try and get to the playoffs again.”
“They were here right at the end of when we were losing quite a bit,” Coach Beery said. “They were part of a huge turnaround and since then, since they’ve been in high school, they’ve never experienced a varsity losing season and take great priDe in that. We were down for about a decade, and now we’re back. We’ve had four winning seasons in a row, made the playoffs last three out of four years, so we have something we’re trying to keep going, and we understand there’s some underlying reasons why we’ve been able to win and a lot of it has to do with the hard work, and when the hard work goes away then the wins will stop as well.”