SESSER (WSIL) -- The 2019 Sesser-Valier-Waltonville football team started the season off fast with a 4-1 record. Hit a bit of slide, but the Red Devils finished the regular season with a victory over Vienna-Goreville to punch a ticket into the playoffs, only to be eliminated in the first round.
The Red Devils are led by co-head coaches John Shadowens and Mike Rude and look to improve on last year's success. It starts with summer workouts.
“We just have a great group of kids right now,” Sesser-Valier Co-Head Coach Mike Rude said. “We’re getting tremendous leadership out of our seniors, and our lower level kids have bought in. Attendance has been fantastic so they want to be here.”
“This has been the most people we’ve had in July for a few years now, so we’re having guys, thirty plus coming out here, getting better every day, and that’s really something to be excited for,” said Sesser-Valier senior tight end and middle linebacker Garrett Gunter.
“They do everything we ask them to do, and lots of times they go beyond what we ask them to do. Like we should’ve been done ten minutes ago, but they don’t want to go home yet. So there’s always the option going to the Custard Stand when they are done, so you would think they’d want to be done. They’d just soon stay out here,” Rude added.
That want to starts with the coaches. Kids see it and follow their lead. Coach Rude has been on a sidelines a long time. He could retire, but his heart is still in it.
“They heard stories about me before I ever got here, so they were a little leery, and they understand now what I’m willing to put into the game to make them the best they can be, and I think kids appreciate that when they know that. I’m the type of guy that if Sesser-Valier came out tomorrow and there’d be no stipends for coaching, I’m here,” Rude said. “I’m not doing it to get paid."
“I just love the game. I look at a lot of my classmates and friends I grew up with. At 72, they wonder why starting year 51 why I still do it. I guess I loved it since I first got exposed to it, and I have a passion to do. I get the most joy out of seeing a group of kids come together. I don’t worry state state championships. When I start a season my goal is to take a group of kids, make them the best they possibly can be, and when you get done with every year and look at that group, and hopefully did the job you’re supposed to do.”
Coach Rude loves this team. Players' leadership abilities has Rude describing this group as an old throwback 1965 team.
“Any time you put the jersey on, one, you earned it, but you weren’t playing for yourself. You were playing for your father, grandfathers, the community, the school. You didn’t worry about who got the touchdowns or who got the praise, you were playing for your town. It meant that much to play for your town.”
“Us seniors, we’re getting there. We’re starting to realize this is our last year, let’s give it all we’ve got, and go out every day and train hard and get better,” Gunter said.
“I always tell the kids, when you pick up your senior yearbook, what your record is that’s your team,” Rude said. “Juniors, they’ve got another year, but you seniors, whatever your team record is, that’s up to you.”
Sesser-Valier has co-head coaches, but it’s taken an entire staff to get this team ready through a pandemic.
“Biggest hurdle right now is keeping this spacing,” Sesser-Valier Boys basketball coach and assistant football coach Shane Garner said. “With limited resources and limited space and trying to keep the guys at a safe distance from each other, and for everyone that’s the biggest hurdle right now. But it’s been really good for us coaches because we’ve had to be a bit more strategic, think outside the box a little bit, and I think the stuff we’ve got going right now, it’s been beneficial to our kids and been beneficial to our coaches.”
“Trying to make sure they grasp the concept that we’re talking about right now and still maintaining the distances and still trying to communicate with them even though I have the mask on, it’s hard to talk to them sometimes, but that’s one of the biggest issues right now, especially with the younger guys because the older guys kind of know a lot of, most of them are returning starters, and they kind of understand the concepts. But the younger guys, they don’t know. They don’t have a clue, so to get them to understand where to go, where to be and where this formation, where they lineup to this formation or that formation, so they understand and hopefully the next week they come back, they can remember what we talked about, what we did,” Sesser-Valier assistant football coach Andy Janello said.