BY CHAD DARE
HOOPESTON — Things didn't feel quite right on Friday nights last fall in Hoopeston.
Their beloved Cornjerkers didn't take the football field once. Instead, the program took the year off, playing only a junior-varsity schedule.
"It was weird not having football games on a Friday night,'' said Hoopeston Area senior quarterback Brant Ramos.
And what did the players do instead of playing?
"We went to some of the other Vermilion Valley Conference games or we just stayed at home and hung out with friends,'' Ramos said. "It was a lot different to be watching a game instead of playing. I can tell you, it's a lot more fun to be playing.''
And, it wasn't just the players that notice a difference.
"A lot of people in our community have been missing Friday night football,'' said senior lineman Connor Willis. "It just didn't feel right to be in high school and playing a Monday game.
"There is a feeling about playing on a Friday night, that you just can't explain.''
Willis and Ramos are looking forward to getting that feeling back this year. Hoopeston Area is scheduled to play seven games this fall, starting with a home game on Aug. 30 against Arthur-Lovington.
One of the biggest reasons that Hoopeston Area forgo a varsity season a year ago was because of numbers. During it's junior-varsity season a year ago, the Cornjerkers had just 15 players on it roster and the majority of their players went both ways for every play of the game.
"It was tougher than I thought it was going to be,'' Willis admitted. "We were playing true iron-man football and when we got into the fourth quarter, we were tired.
"I think that year was good preparation for this year, and thankfully, our numbers are up and we should have a little depth.''
Officially, the Hoopeston Area football roster has 27 players listed including nine freshmen.
"We had some first-year players a year ago and they got used to what we were doing during JV football rather than trying to learn at the varsity level,'' Ramos said. "We didn't get beat up every week and it was fun playing the game.''
Even without the Friday night lights, Hoopeston Area coach Michl Kearney said the community still showed the program plenty of support.
"We would come out here to play a JV game, and the bleachers were full. That tells you that they love football here in Hoopeston,'' Kearney said. "We still saw great support from our community, our students and our school. Now, there is a lot of talk in the community about it being back and we hope to build off of that momentum that is being generated.''
And that momentum has carried over to preseason practices.
"We did struggle during the summer,'' said Kearney, as Hoopeston Area had only about 12 players showing up consistently for its offseason programs. "Those kids that were not here in the summer, we're behind when we got started.
"And now those guys are spending extra time after practice, trying to catch up. That is creating some competition for playing spots and that is going to make us a better team.''
Ramos, who will be the starting quarterback, admits one of the goals for this season is to keep building the program.
"We want to see things continue to get better over the next couple of years,'' he said. "Because of that, we are teaching the young kids to never give up. We didn't quit last year when we didn't have a varsity season and we hope these young players don't ever give up on building this program.''
And while the program is back on the varsity level, Kearney knows there is still a lot of work to be done for this team to be successful.
"We tell our team, that we want to get better each play, and we want to get better each game,'' Kearney said. "If we keep getting better, than things will get better. We talk about getting better in the classroom, getting better in the community and getting better on the playing field. All of those things will add up and that will improve our football program.''
Coty Coon, a junior running back for the Cornjerkers, admits there is some pressure on this team.
"If we don't do well and we don't keep people interested in the program, there is always a chance that it could go away again,'' he said. "If we go out there and give it 110 percent on every play, it's going to be a successful night, regardless what the scoreboard says.''
Hoopeston Area is guaranteed to have two victories at the end of the year as the school didn't fill scheduled games against East Central and Schlarman, giving the Cornjerkers a pair of forfeit victories.
In addition to the opening-night home game against Arthur-Lovington, Hoopeston Area will also host Salt Fork and Westville in Vermilion Valley Conference games this season.
Hoopeston Area Cornjerkers
Head Coach — Michl Kearney
2012 record — 0-0 (did not play a varsity schedule)
Date Opponent Time
Aug. 30 Arthur-Lovington 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 at Geo-RF/Chrisman * 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 at Oakwood/A-P * 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 Salt Fork * 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 at Bismarck-Henning * 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 Westville * 7 p.m.
Oct. 25 at Milford/Cissna Park * 7 p.m.
* — Vermilion Valley Conference game
— All Times Central