Playing in the IHSA Class 6A playoffs had become a consistent with the Danville football program — at least until the 2012 season.
After six straight trips to the playoffs and a pair of state semifinal appearances, the Vikings were on the outside, watching teams like Bloomington, Normal Community, Normal West and Urbana play in Week No. 10 and beyond.
"Not making the playoffs hit us hard,'' said Chris Collier, a senior receiver and defensive back. "When you heard the name Danville Vikings in the previous six years, you expected a playoff team.
"We took it for granted that things would be given to us, instead of working hard and taking it. Basically, we got lazy.''
And because of one bad season, going 4-5, the Vikings will need to prove to the rest of the Big 12 Conference that they can get back into the Class 6A playoffs.
"I know everyone is thinking that we won't do very well this year, but I have faith that we are going to get things turned around,'' said Trent Sherfield, a senior quarterback/safety for Danville. "The difference between then and now is that we didn't work as hard last year as we have this year.
"We are not letting anything slide this year, and that goes for the coaches and the players.''
Sherfield and Collier are two main reasons why the Vikings will challenge for playoff-berth in 2013. That duo combined for nearly 3,000 yards of total offense and 40 touchdowns a year ago and leading the way for those two is an offensive line, that returns three starters.
"We feel like we've got some outstanding skilled kids, maybe as good as we've had in certain spots,'' Danville coach B.J. Luke said. "And I think we have an opportunity to become a good offensive line with some work, and some consistency.''
According to Luke, that word "consistency" is the key to his team's success.
"We've got to be consistent in our performance, we've got to be consistent in how we prepare for games and we've got to have a little bit of luck,'' he said. "This is probably the thinnest team we've been since the first year as far as personnel.
"We will have to keep our front-liners healthy.''
And, if Danville can do that, Luke expects his offense to put points on the board. A year ago, the Vikings averaged 31.6 points per game, and they had six games where they scored 28 or more points.
"We know that Trent and Chris are going to draw a lot of attention, so the opportunity is there for some other kids to make big plays,'' Luke said. "We will need to develop some role players to take some of the heat off of Trent and Chris.''
While there is experience in the offensive line, Mike Vascura is moving from center to tackle while seniors Tim Pittman and Darrien Rose will anchor the guard spots. Curtiss Cline takes over at center and Kendrick Davis steps up into a tackle spot.
"We have some guys on the line that know what they are doing and we've got good skilled players behind that line,'' Vascura said.
And what about the move to tackle?
"It's different, but I played it during my sophomore year,'' he said. "I'm going to do what the team needs me to do.''
One of the biggest concerns for the Danville offense will be at the running back position.
Collier, who rushed for 115 yards in the season finale against Urbana, will see some time back there while also playing his receiver position.
"We are going to go with personnel groupings,'' said Luke, implying Danville will use a running back by committee approach. "We've done that in the past. A few years ago, we had Mario Crosby, who would jump round back there from QB to run back.
"This year, Trent will stay at QB all of the time, but we will have some different kids next to him.''
But, even the running back position isn't the biggest question mark for the Vikings.
"We scored a ton of points last year, but it seemed like we gave up 1 point extra in all those games, and that's why we wound up 4-5,'' said Luke, whose team actually allowed on average 33.7 points per game.
And that was the biggest difference between the Danville playoff teams and the squad that took the field a year ago.
"We know that our offense is going to produce. If we get that defense corrected, we can be a really, really good playoff team,'' said Sherfield. "We didn't work hard at all on defense last year. We didn't fly to the ball like the previous Danville defenses had done.
"We are known for being real nasty, flying to the ball and being real physical. Last year, we didn't do that.''
That was evident in the season-ending statistics.
Sophomore Hoey Watson, a linebacker, led the team with 91 tackles, but he was the only one from that position in the top-five on his team.
In the previous playoff teams, multiple linebackers were on top of the tackle charts and the leading tackler for Danville had well over 100 tackles during the nine-game regular season.
"You look at the previous four or five years, we were pretty salty defensive football team,'' Luke said. "We hung our hat on our defense during those semifinal runs. It's a mindset and an attitude that we've gotten away from a little bit, but I see some positive signs.
"Our linebackers are a work in progress. We have three guys that are looking to fill those spots, but we need to find a couple guys that can be consistent in their play. That position, like our tackling, must improve.''
In front of that group, Danville returns a pair of starters on the defensive line in Rose and Pittman, while Vascura is taking one defensive end spot and Tyvon Cooper, who has been a pleasant surprise, taking the other.
"Even with Tyvon, it's about consistent play,'' Luke said. "He has shown signs of being able to handle it, but we need to be able to count on him on every play.''
And Luke said another key is finding some backups as Pittman, Rose and Vascura are starting on both the offensive and defensive lines.
"We need to find a few guys that can come into the game and give those guys a rest,'' Luke said. "We don't want them to be two two-way players, more like one-and-a-half.''
Vascura, who played both ways in a couple games during 2012, admitted being ready to do both was something they worked on during the offseason.
"It was hard to do, last year,'' he said. "I knew I had to be in the best shape of my life to play to equally hard on both sides of the ball.''
One big change this season in Danville football will be its kicking game.
After losing the season-opener a year ago to Bloomington, 43-42, a game where Danville went 0-for-7 in extra points, the Vikings showed off its senior kicker Gracson Torres during their Friday night scrimmage.
"He gives us a little pop that we have not had in a few seasons,'' Luke said. "Gracson has done a great job of getting to the football practices. He goes through all of the defensive drills and then he spends the rest of the time, working with coach (Frank) Luzenske on his kicking.''
The season and Big 12 Conference opener for the Vikings will be this Friday in Bloomington against the Purple Raiders, who are the favorites to the win the conference. Kickoff at Fred Carleton Field is set for 7 p.m.