BY CHAD DARE
---- — DANVILLE — The best thing about young football players is that they grow up and become more experienced.
That's what the Danville football coaches are seeing in junior Hoey Watson and sophomore Latrey Reed, the starting inside linebackers for the Vikings.
"They have been working at getting better. You can see the potential that they have to be a very good players,'' Danville coach B.J. Luke said. "Hopefully, they continue working at getting better and they become the football players that we think they can be.''
This season, Reed leads the Vikings with 56 tackles, while Watson, the team leader a year ago, is tied for second with 54 stops.
"I know that I've had my ups and downs this season,'' said Watson, who finished with 91 tackles a year ago. "I've been trying to work hard to get better all year.
"The coaches have talked with me about it, and are working with me to getting the things corrected.''
At the same time, the Danville coaches have been working with Reed at the other linebacker spot, basically teaching him how to play varsity football.
"This season has been something totally different for me,'' Reed said. "Last year, I was just learning about high school football on the freshman level and I realized that things are a lot different from little league football.
"This year, it was even more different because you have so many more responsibilities at linebacker. You have more defensive plays and it's a lot more detailed. You really have a lot more to learn and do.''
Watson and Reed, who were teammates for the Tilton Panthers in youth football, have leaned on each other this season when it has come to make the calls for the defense.
"That can be really stressing because you have a lot on your head,'' Watson said. "And if you make a mistake, you have a lot to do to make up for it.''
And junior defensive end Tyvon Cooper, a former linebacker, points out that a wrong defensive call can lead to major mistakes.
" You have to know what you are doing,'' he said. "Because if you call it wrong, it can lead to a touchdown.
"It's a very tough position to play.''
Reed said that its not only learning the different defensive plays, but it's also learning about the opposing team's offenses.
"At times, I'll admit, that I get confused by so many different things that we have learned,'' he said. "The coaches do a really good job of teaching it to us during the week, but things change from week-to-week and I have to work on adapting better to the game plan.
"At home, I try to watch a lot of film and I try to learn as much as I can about the team we are playing.''
Watson went through a similar situation a year ago, when he earned his starting spot as a sophomore.
"No one thought that Hoey would lead the team in tackles a year ago,'' Danville senior Chris Collier said. "He came up big in big games for us. Both he and Latrey might mess up, but when they are going hard, they help make our defense better.
"They are getting a ton of experience this year and they will be able to pass that down to the younger guys coming up in the program.''
With tonight's season finale against the Urbana Tigers, both Watson and Reed are ready to look towards next season.
"In this offseason, I need to get bigger and faster to be ready for my senior year,'' said Watson, who went thought a major growth spurt before this season, growing 2 inches and adding about 15 pounds. "I was expecting to do really well this year, because I was eating better and lifting weights all during the offseason.
"I really I wish I could have started off on the right track from the first game.''
While Watson had a slow start to this season, on the other hand, Reed started very quickly, earning his starting position during preseason practices.
"It's been fun playing with Hoey,'' Reed said. "We know each other so well, we know each other's strengths, each other weaknesses and we can count on each other.
"It hasn't been the best season, but it also hasn't been the worst. We are going to take everything we've learned this year and apply it to next season.''
Luke admits that something the coaches expect from both players.
"We believe they have the potential to be very good players in our program,'' he said. "Now, it's up to them to do the work in the offseason to get better.''
If the 'Backer Brothers' are able to make major improvements this offseason, the Danville Vikings could find themselves back into the IHSA Playoffs.